Back in the 80s, I had one of the best Saturday jobs in town. Slap bang in the middle of the High Street, in a corner, by the window, was my little kingdom.
Retail is detail
I was the Saturday girl on WHSmith’s stationery counter, a position that provided me with enough wages for my teenage social life, plus a scratchy grey pinafore dress and a skill for changing watch batteries. Kudos, huh?
Even better, I worked in the same shop as my best friend Lindsay. My job on stationery had the geographic advantage: my punk friends would come and hammer on the window, pulling daft faces at me and licking the glass. Normally when I was about to clinch that big Filofax sale.
But even with this plus point, I was a bit jealous of Lindsay. Because Lindsay worked on Sounds.
Fair enough, I could recommend the best model of Casio pocket calculator for any occasion but the Saturday night bragging rights for that were pretty minimal. Lindsay, however, tucked away at the back in Sounds, got to choose music for the shop and unwrapped every new album and single as it arrived.
No-one cool bought their records from WHSmith. That’s what Our Price was for. But still, selling Culture Club cassettes was better than peddling Parker pens for a living.
Trying to be cool?
I’m mentioning it because, as you’re probably aware, the BBC has ditched its iPlayer Radio app in favour of a new product called BBC Sounds.
The idea is to ride the podcast bandwagon, reflect the fact that programming lives on many platforms and chuck speech and music more effectively into the same algorithmic goodie bag. Radio is dead: long live Sounds.
I love a good podcast. Appropriately enough, I was listening to a Stephen Fry piece the other day and chuckled at his thoughts on the migration of the word ‘wireless’. Formerly what your gran called the radio, that meaning has been elbowed aside in favour of a connection for your phone, laptop, headphones… whatever. The plasticity of language is a brilliant thing.
Back at WHSmith, we had a manager who gloried in the name of Mr Bengochea – and we definitely had to call him ‘Mr’. His deputy was very firmly Miss Wright. Not Karen or Debs, or whatever her name might have been.
Admittedly, 30 years ago is a fair old whack of time. But when you remember details like that, it seems like something from Lark Rise to Candleford. It’s a wonder we were in scratchy pinafores and not curtseying to Mr Bengochea in our crinolines.
The sound of Sounds
So it seems odd that the BBC has plumped for ‘Sounds’ as the name of its new app.
I guess that, to them, it doesn’t represent an uncool 80s record department in a slightly stuffy, middle class shop in a dying seaside town.
To the BBC, ‘Sounds’ is a cutting edge kinda word that represents the very latest in aural content, the sort of stuff that’s sure to be greeted appreciatively by the cool kids.
Maybe the BBC has more in common with WHSmith than I realised.