Radio frightening

Jul 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Pop thinking

Radio always had an air of mystery about it.  Perhaps it was the sight of lines and lines of masts during childhood days, built to listen to signals from who knows where.  Perhaps it was pictures of the listening stations at Goonhilly Downs; the name itself enough to strike uncertainty into a youthful mind.  Perhaps it was turning the dial through the wavebands on dark English winter nights, the fizz and crackle of static; the rise and fall of the reception of stations that appeared and as quickly disappeared, unable to be recovered, no matter how many times the dial was turned backwards and forwards.

Radio was not reassuring in the way that television could be, it was remote and impersonal and almost intimidating.  Television always came from somewhere known, somewhere identifiable; in Somerset it was from London or Bristol or Plymouth.  Radio was altogether more anonymous; it could be local, or it be somewhere on the other side of the world.  During Communist days, Radio Moscow used to broadcast to England with its own very distinctive view of the world.

Radio could be almost sinister at times.  Many of the masts and the dishes dotted across England were not there for entertainment; they were there for intelligence purposes.  They were there to listen for the ever present threat of attack by the Warsaw Bloc; they were there to warn us that nuclear destruction was imminent.

Perhaps it was the association of radio with the threat of being blown to kingdom come that gave radio its darkly menacing quality.  But perhaps there was something more to it, as well.

Late night radio seemed always to have a feeling of isolation and loneliness.  When loneliness was the thing most feared, the radio seemed to say, “You’re alone. You’re out of touch. There is no-one there for you.  There is not another soul to communicate with you”.

Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Radio Nowhere’, played at the concert at Dublin’s RDS last night, with accompanying images of lines of masts, seemed to gather up a whole mess of childhood thoughts and fears:

I was trying to find my way home,
But all I heard was a drone.
Bouncin’ off a satellite
Crushing the last long American night.

This is radio nowhere.
Is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere.
Is there anybody alive out there?

I was sitting around a dirt dial
Just another lost number in a file.
Been in some kinda dark cove
Just searching for a world with some soul.

This is radio nowhere.
Is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere.
Is there anybody alive out there?
Is there anybody alive out there?

It is odd how unlikely things can allow a confrontation with a lifetime of fears.

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  1. What different perceptions we have! For me, radio has always been comforting. As a child, Mrs Dales’ Diary, the Archers and Life with the Lyons after Sunday lunch. And I’m still reassured to find new generations of Archers on the dial when I visit Britain. As a teenager, Radio Luxembourg on the tranny under the bedclothes – Horace Batchelor from Keynsham… And still I find reassurance from the familiar voices on Morning Ireland, no matter how dire the News may be!

    Now childhood memories of air-raid sirens being tested – that still makes me shiver!

  2. Many years ago, Well over sixty years anyway, our ‘Wireless’ was a box 2 feet high, 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep, it was a source of information and entertainment, bringing us messages from Lord Haw Haw in Germany, and great comedy shows such as Itma and Happidrome, and drama such as Saturday Night Theatre and Appointment with Fear – Who could have lived without the Wireless

  3. I loved radio and still do! With it I make my own pictures, unlike TV where we are given what someone else wants us to see!

  4. We only had the ‘wireless’ when I was a young boy, I also remember with fondness ‘The Archers’ and was convinced that they all lived in Hambridge (a village in Somerset..Ian knows) and Mrs Dales diary which I seem to remember was on in the afternoons, but nothing could beat listening to Saturday Night Theatre in my Grans room with the oil lamp casting its shadows on the walls…

  5. I have no less than four personal radios myself (not counting the one in the car and the household ones!) and listen a lot, but I still get spooked at times. I have a digital radio that picks up the RTE digital channels which seem almost completely automated and with very little human input. I find shortwave the most disconcerting; voices that seem from a different world.

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