Radio hasn't got it all taped

28th May 2004 at 01:00
ne unexpected side-effect of my secondment to the local authority's advisory service is that I get to listen to the radio a lot more. Prior to my temporary departure from the classroom, I travelled to work with three or four others in what became known as the Skoda car pool, though my friends' Citroens and Rovers saw service too.

The radio was seen as a hindrance to a good blether, particularly on the way home and was thus left off. Now I commute on my lonesome, it yammers away in the background when I am not being Compilation Man and playing a selection of tapes that should largely be categorised as "should know better". Opportunities for in-car entertainment are further boosted by the necessity to travel between my base and schools or conferences.

I thought that the day I preferred Radio 2 to Radio 1 would be the day to buy the cardigan and slippers and start looking at the small ads for luxury commodes. That day has come and gone, though I favour speech radio over any music station. When it comes to news and analysis, Radio Scotland does the job. Most of the time. It did let me down quite badly the other day when it came to a scientific matter.

Honda had just developed a car using fuel cell technology. Such vehicles combine hydrogen gas with oxygen, creating electrical energy. Since hydrogen is not naturally available, it has to be made by using electricity to split water back into the two gases that make it up. One design of fuel cell vehicle could have a water tank in it that would be hooked up to an electrical supply at night, creating the fuel to be used next day.

Little of this was mentioned in a radio report, the thrust of which was that Honda had invented a car that ran on water. A motoring expert was drafted in. When asked how the Honda worked, he cheerfully admitted that he didn't know, but said something about hydrogen being "basically, pure energy".

I felt listeners had been cheated. The science behind the fuel cell car is fairly accessible and the technology is likely to become of vital importance to humanity. The issues about how electricity is generated to create the hydrogen also need to be brought into the debate.

Can you imagine a political correspondent being asked to comment on a topic and cheerfully admitting that he didn't know anything about it? I don't place all the blame for this sort of attitude with journalists. For every media type who is ignorant of science there is a scientist who has not seen the value in acquiring basic communication skills. Anybody know of a good tape-based course that they could listen to on the way to work?

Gregor Steele feels that music stations don't play the Proclaimers often enough.

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