Radio Memories – PopMaster.

PopMaster (BBC Radio 2, 1998-present)

Having just about exhausted all of the TV game shows that I have wanted to review, I thought that I might as well now look back as some on the radio. Over the years, radio stations often go through several policy and host changes, and BBC Radio 2 has had as much of an at times-difficult upheaval as BBC Radio 1 did, in an attempt to attract new listeners (and try and retain the regulars), but one thing has remained a constant in the schedule for almost 25 years.

PopMaster (with a capital “M” it seems) is played in the morning, during the show hosted by Ken Bruce (who is almost always described as “the jovial Scotsman”). Two contestants take part, who are individually questioned on the history of pop music in various decades and genres, usually being asked “who had a hit with this?”. Ken will begin by asking the contestants about things like their taste in music before they play.

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They are both asked ten questions, with most of them being worth three points. And there are also three bonus questions, with a choice of two categories, which are worth double points, meaning that the maximum score possible is 39. The highest-scorer on the day goes through to the final, which is Three In Ten, where they have to more three hit singles by an act in ten seconds. Prizes on offer include a digital radio.

I know that this might turn pop music merely into statistics to some extent, but I do find all of this trivia rather interesting. As this is a long-running game, several quirks have developed. There are contestants who seem to end every answer (and in every sentence) with “Ken”. There is also a countdown timer when an answer is needed quickly, although most of the time their silence is because the line has gone down, rather than because they were thinking about their answer.

And in the “guess the year” questions, being told that they are “one year out!” with their answer seems to make some contestants think that they have won a bonus prize, when they had actually given a wrong answer (although a consolation prize of a T-shirt that does feature this phrase is much cherished). There have also been celebrity specials, and the Champions League, where the highest-scorers return at the end of the year to determine an overall winner.

And two books have been released, that are packed with questions in various categories, I have both of these, and they are always an enjoyable read, along with featuring on the puzzles page of Radio Times. There have also been specials where the game was played throughout the day in a knockout format, and there has even been a stage version. Few other shows make so many people shout at the radio when contestants do badly (or indeed well). That’s great, Ken.

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