Our car stereo has a button with the letters “TA” on it. It allows you to control whether Traffic Announcements interrupt what you’re listening to (radio or CD in our case). You might be familiar with the concept. The first time I encountered it in action, back in the 1990s, in a different car, was quite a shock. There I was, belting out “I just can’t help believing”, singing along with Elvis Presley on a pre-recorded cassette, when a traffic report kicked in. I was on the North Circular Road, doing maybe 40mph, and felt genuinely spooked at the interruption. I switched off the stereo and only turned it back on again when I got to the M1, heading north to Leeds. Within 20 minutes it had happened again, a travel reporter interrupting The King, but I wasn’t so spooked this time. It happened again, regularly, for the rest of the journey: Leicestershire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire.
A friend in Leeds, who knows far more about cars than I ever will, explained what TA stood for and, crucially, showed me how to switch off the feature. Ever since then I have used it when needed. On most car journeys I leave it on, and the letters TA indicate that it’s active. Occasionally the letters flash to show that it’s not active, and we know that it is always inactive if the radio is not tuned into an FM station. This applies even if you’re listening to a CD. If you switch from, say, Test Match Special on Radio 4 Long Wave to a CD, TA will not be available. You have to switch to an FM station before hitting the “Source” button to activate the CD.
The traffic reports that are most useful to us are on BBC Radio London. They kick in every 15 minutes in rush hour, Monday to Friday; at other times they are less frequent. Sometimes our listening is interrupted by reports from stations in Kent and Surrey, but these are rarely relevant to us. Two of the travel reporters on BBC Radio London have an issue saying the letter “R”. Jonathan Ross famously pronounces it as a “W”, which explains why he is often (and affectionately) known as “Wossy”. The chaps on Radio London pronounce it more like a “V”. We know other people who pronounce “R” in this way. I’m not going to call it a problem, or a speech impediment, which is why I used the word “issue” earlier in this paragraph.
When I first heard travel announcements with an “R” sounding more like a “V” I noted how many places this involved: Richmond, Brixton, Perivale, Greenford, anywhere with the words “road”, “street” or “bridge”. I wondered what locations and updates would contain the most instance of the letter “R”: “roadworks on Richmond Bridge” perhaps, or “heavy traffic on Brixton High Street”. As so often, real life provided a better example than my imagination could: “Temporary traffic lights on the Redbridge Roundabout”. They haven’t featured in the reports for a while, so the problem must have been fixed.
As far as I know, none of the travel reporters has any issues with the letter “S”: I have heard no lisping on the Travel Reports on BBC Radio London, so “All tube lines suspended at Seven Sisters Station” wouldn’t provide much of a challenge. You might recall Chris Eubank, the former world champion middleweight boxer, one of the more famous people to speak with a lisp. He presented “Top of the Pops” once in 1996, and gave the chart rundown from 10 to 1. That week’s Top 10 featured a cover of the Paul Simon song “Cecilia”, by Madness lead singer Graham McPherson, better known as Suggs. There’s a clip of it here, from the BBC panel show “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”. At 1:11 you can hear Eubank announce; “Six, Cecilia by Suggs”. It’s a well-known clip. I remember watching both shows (“Top of the Pops” and “Buzzcocks”) when they were originally broadcast and, not for the first time, am surprised at how long has passed since then. How was that 22 years ago?