Seconds after PM went on the air, on the Wednesday before the start of the Olympics, we began to get complaints. Nothing unusual in that. Except these weren’t the run-of-the-mill complaints from regulars. (Why were the pips so loud? Why do you hate the Israelis/Palestinians? Can you help me find the tinfoil that seems to have fallen off my head?) No. These were from people who were desperate to hear the programme but couldn’t. And, no, they weren’t crazy; their tin foil was in its rightful place.
As the trickle became a torrent, the problem became clear. People listening online overseas were getting a boring recorded message. While some considered this an improvement on PM, others were confused and annoyed, like a bird that’s flown in through a window and is trying to get out through a closed door.
The message said something about a rights issue preventing the broadcast of PM, but that raised more questions than it answered and I was in no position to help.
People assume that because I can come across as knowing what I’m talking about, that I must know things. This is not true. Without the support of the PM production team, caffeine and "Eddie’s Special Medicine Flask", I’d be unable to utter a word. I’m only exaggerating slightly. So there was as much chance of me solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Overseas Broadcasts as there would be of Miss Marple attending a Bunga Bunga party.
I asked a grown-up. It transpired that as there was a chance PM would include coverage of the Olympics, overseas transmission was impossible. The BBC could broadcast Olympic stuff in the UK only; it didn’t have foreign rights. Then there was a bewildering explanation about how the BBC was not the host broadcaster (this was news to me… I had to take a steadying sip of medicine) and unless I'm very much mistaken it’s being run by UPS overseen by LOCO and the OIK. So that’s all good then, as that man would say.
The truth is, I should have seen this coming, and because I didn’t, countless overseas listeners (literally countless… they do not feature in our audience figures) were cut off from us. What was heartening was reading how much our little broadcast meant to them.
Eddie Mair hosts PM on Monday-Wednesday at 5:00pm and iPM on Saturday at 5:45am and 5:30pm, both on Radio 4, as well as Newsnight on Thursday and Friday at 10:30pm, BBC2