Happy birthday to Talkback as it reaches the age of 30

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For 30 years, it has been on in the background to life in Northern Ireland – Radio Ulster’s Talkback.

The award winning BBC programme was first broadcast on this day in 1986, initially hosted by Barry Cowan, who was well known as the presenter of the evening news TV programme, Scene Around Six.

Talkback was an immediate success, and has become part of the broadcasting furniture ever since.

Its endurance ought to be surprising, as indeed the endurance of radio ought to be surprising. It is a medium that has been around since the 1920s, and might have been replaced by television after the Second World War. If not that, then the wireless would surely be no challenge for the digital age.

But in the same way that newspapers have survived these technological advances (this title is edging towards its 300th birthday, and is the oldest English language daily paper in the world) radio has not only survived, it has thrived. The digital age has been an accompaniment to it. People can go online and listen to the programme that they had previously missed.

There is a particular immediacy about radio. The fact that you cannot see the people who are talking means that you are not distracted by their expression or what they are wearing or their setting, and the listener can concentrate on their words.

Radio was an important forum for Northern Ireland as it emerged from the Troubles (in 1986 it was in what was sometimes described as the acceptable level of violence’ phase).

There can be barely a regular listener of Talkback who has not been infuriated by some of its content, but that reflects the range of subjects it has covered, often controversial.

It is a much-loved Northern Ireland institution, as have been its four presenters – all quite different in style, but all a recognised part of the show’s fabric.

Listeners love the fact that they too can get involved.

Today is a big milestone for Talback and we wish them many happy returns of it.

Radio Ulster’s Talkback show is 30 today

Sam McBride: Radio Ulster’s Talback at 30 an institution and a mirror to our society