The BBC is getting into ASMR

The gentle sound of masticating.
The gentle sound of masticating.
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
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You’ve heard of slow food and slow fashion. Now the BBC is spreading the gospel of slow radio.

The British public broadcaster’s Radio 3 programming this autumn will invite listeners to relax to the sounds of Irish cows being herded up a mountain and leaves crunching on walks through the country. Radio 3 controller Alan Davey tells The Guardian this “meditative, slightly old fashioned” radio will provide audiences with “a chance for quiet mindfulness.”

That sounds a lot like autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or the pleasant calming sensation many people feel when listening to a range of gentle everyday noises, from softly spoken words to someone raking a zen garden. The BBC isn’t the first organization to take note of ASMR’s appeal; IKEA, for example, created a soothing, tingle-inducing 25-minute advertisement for its home goods products last year.

Radio 3 has a reputation for attracting an older audience demographic, with its steady stream of classical, jazz, and opera music. But Davey tells The Guardian that the station’s “rigorous commitment” to slow listening reflects an overall change in listener appetites.

“I believe we are at a tipping point. For a long time people have been encouraged to consume things in short chunks but I think there is increasingly a longing amongst younger audiences, and certainly an appetite I see in live performance, for longer things, things that take the time that they take, that will take you out of something for a bit.”

The slow radio programs will feature all kinds of auditory delights, from the animal murmurings of a zoo at dusk to one of the UK’s largest collections of clocks. On Christmas Eve, listeners can look forward to hearing a three-hour walk through the Black Forest in southwest Germany.

Time to grab your noise-canceling headphones, make a cup of tea, and slow down.