The best pictures are on the radio


Alan Dein is fly-fishing the airwaves again with a 4th series of Don’t Log Off. His rod is Facebook, his line is Skype, his bait is an invitation – talk to me. The acoustic of the programme suggests we are tucked up in a midnight cupboard deep in the bowels of Broadcasting House. Slivers of music seep in and out like feelings that evaporate when we try to catch them. Having hooked a handful of random strangers, Alan tickles them with gently existential questions: Hello who are you? Where are you? What time is it with you? What have you been doing today?

The opening episode winkles out people yearning to escape; from political persecution, theocratic states, environmental disasters, oppressive families. Roger from Uganda is trying to build a new life with his girlfriend in Finland. J is a human rights activist pursued by Saudi Arabian persecutors. Brian from Idaho dreams of marrying his unmet Russian internet date. Fragments of conversations are interrupted by lost connections, airport announcements, woofing dogs, domestic thrum. The intimacy is so sticky it’s as if we have materialised inside someone else’s soul.

But unlike fly-on-the-wall documentaries that turn gullible subjects into freaks, Don’t Log Off does not exploit. Interviewer and interviewee are absolutely equal. They are muddling through this encounter together to see if they can find some common ground. Alan exchanges his freedom to broadcast, for their eagerness to be witnessed, so that we listeners might understand ourselves better. It’s an equitable transaction in which everyone wins.

We often have these virtual conversations with invented gods, absent lovers, dead friends, other selves. Alan invites us to look sideways and reflect on who we are and where we are going, through the preoccupations and frustrations of others. They are voices in fog – looming in and out of earshot; dislocated articulations that cling to the vapour and linger long after; imaginary fishes that got away.

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