13th February was World Radio Day and Cape Talk Radio, my local radio station, asked listeners to phone in and share their first memories of radio, and what radio meant in their lives. The listeners flooded the station with calls and WhatsApp messages, not only from senior listeners, but enthusiastic responses across the spectrum .
We heard about kids being allowed to broadcast on Dad’s Ham Radio, in the back shed. We heard about the exciting arrival of Q Cards – something to do with signal frequencies by location (hope I’ve got that right!). We heard about listeners sharing national grief at the death of famous statesmen; their enjoyment of radio dramas, serials and book-readings; and of course the music, and a top favourite in South Africa: sports broadcasts, especially ball by ball commentaries.
My earliest radio memory comes from the mid-1940s when the radio was ceremonially switched on, to listen in hushed silence to the news from the BBC in London. First came the rousing signature tune D’ye ken John Peel? And then the clipped tones of the newscaster, reading the news, followed by the all important English Soccer League results.
You had to hold your breath to hear anything at all, because reception was dreadful, faint and staticky, especially if the all-important car battery which powered the radio was going flat. We had no electricity, and life on a remote central African tea estate was isolated to say the least. Private telephones in homes were unknown so you couldn’t phone a friend for a cosy chat. The country had only one newspaper which was published once a week, a few slim pages, which was always a week old by the time it reached us. Roads were primitive, public transport didn’t exist, neighbours were far away, so that radio really was a lifeline!
Once the news was over, the radio was switched off. Due to the battery situation, the power had to be carefully husbanded. And today we blithely leave the radio playing day and night, if we feel like it. Provided Eskom hasn’t decided on loadshedding and switched off the power … what’s that French saying? Tout la meme change … the more things change, the more they remain the same.
I’m recycling a much older post that I wrote in 2014, also on the topic of radio. Here it is, below:
THIS IS THE VOICE OF AMERICA – July 2014.
My love affair with the Radio continues.
As I lay in bed, alternately groaning and cursing during a bout of gastric ‘flu, my feeble hand managed to grasp my Samsung Galaxy tablet, and started fiddling with the icon marked BBC Radio. I have to say, I think that small action improved my health more than all the ginger tea, Probiotics, and other remedies combined.
I spent a happy time discovering a weird variety of stations ; one poured out Bangladeshi Classical music; another pumped out jolly accordion/organ sing-a-long tunes from the Nederlands. Radio Venice offering baroque music. A station in Sweden broadcasting in Farsi. I’m still trying to work that one out. And, no, I don’t speak Farsi. Radio Mediterranean offered a heady mix of Armenian, Arabic, Italian, French, Greek music. There were umpteen Polish stations promoting music from hip-hop, to acid jazz, to urban funk, lounge, and salsa. Fabulous! Almost worth being sick. Almost, but not quite.
Long ago, when I was a misunderstood teenager, I was given a portable radio – battery powered, of course, I’m speaking of the pre-electronic age, a.k.a. The Olden Days. It offered short, long and medium wave reception. I think it was a Phillips radio, in a smart cream and chocolate plastic casing. I absolutely loved it, and would spend hours twiddling the dial, fighting the dreadful static and the waning battery power, straining my ears for the tiniest snatch of LM Radio’s weekly Hit Parade, or trolling through foreign language stations, listening to streams of exotic sounding languages, and desperately wishing I could understand some of it.
But the one station that was always amazingly clear, was the Voice of America. You knew immediately when you hit it, because out poured a stream of jazz, or Benny Goodman’s band, playing a swing tune. Just knowing that I was listening to someone or something from half-way across the globe gave me such a thrill. It still does. Over and out!