Eddie Mair: Extraneous noises on the radio make me cross

Warning: This column contains background noise

And now the headlines again: “In the Middle East today, tippetty tappetty tippetty tapp, and 17 injured.”


“A hundred thousand people marched through the centre of you’ve got to be kidding me, she didn’t, did she, and changes to pensions.”

“And the death has been announced of rustle rustle at the age of 87.”

Extraneous noises on the radio make me cross. When I hear them on my own live programmes, I want to bang my head repeatedly on the studio desk – and I would if it weren’t for the racket it would make. I have an unnaturally large head. Milliners run for cover when they see my giant noggin filling their doorway.

Apologies for those extraneous thoughts. I was talking about extraneous noises on the radio. I like there to be nothing between the speaker’s voice and the listener. Except a few transmitters and things, of course. But increasingly these days there are other distractions competing for the listeners’ attention: the sound of bits of paper being moved, presenters tapping on their computer keyboards or studio doors thudding shut.

I heard a clip on the news from a BBC radio breakfast programme the other day. Someone had said something fantastically newsworthy: so interesting it had been clipped and put into the news bulletin. I’d love to tell you what the news-making person was saying but unfortunately all I really heard was a presenter on the programme frantically tapping at their keyboard throughout the clip. It sounded like Fred Astaire on acid.

I do my bit. To cut down on paper noise, on PM I work off my computer. This makes me more insufferably smug than usual, though the day the computer freezes will be a show to tune in for.

What I’ve been unable to do anything about, though, is noises off. When I started out in radio (Marconi had only just left the building) the studios were properly soundproofed. To enter, there were two doors. First you had to push a heavy door that made a sort of sucking sound as it opened. You had to wait for it to close while you stood in a tiny space, then open the second heavy door to the studio itself. This rather laborious process had the pleasing outcome of keeping away from the microphones all the noise from outside the studio. This was important because outside the studio staff were invariably laughing loudly, shouting at each other or into telephones. It’s not what you want to hear on the radio.

In our delightful open-plan New Broadcasting House (cost: £1 billion), there is a single door to the studio and it opens onto a corridor that can sound like the front row of a Justin Bieber concert. There are signs asking people to be quiet, but we all ignore them. This explains why Radio 4’s most respected news programmes, as well as PM, are routinely serenaded by cackling, yelling and other miscellaneous excretions.

Last week some carpenters and painters arrived to build new walls and doors to help create a bit of silence outside Studio S32. Hopefully it will be enough to stop random voices suddenly interrupting and spoiling your understanding of the Norfolk Broads holiday home.

Eddie Mair presents PM, Monday–Friday 5.00pm Radio 4