I’ve discovered February 13th is World Radio Day, and I’d like to celebrate a medium that has been a lifelong friend, an ever present companion, and a source of connection between millions around the world. Radio has certainly shaped and influenced my life from a very young age, so in honour of this, I’d like to share some of my personal radio memories.
My earliest recollection is the sound of music emanating from the family “radiogram”, a wooden piece of furniture standing on four legs, with a built in radio receiver and a record player cabinet. I distinctly remember hearing Tony Blackburn’s voice and “Arnold” the barking dog on Radio 1, and I’ve loved Tony ever since. Radio Luxembourg a pirate station had a regular bingo broadcast which my mammy listened to? I thought this was a rogue piece of imagination on my part, but my husband (a pirate radio buff himself) assures me this did happen! This would have been around 1971-73 before commercial radio began in the UK.
When the commercial Radio Clyde was born on 31st December 1973 broadcasting to Glasgow and West Central Scotland, my radio experience grew, especially when a tape recorder machine and small microphone were purchased not long after. Before a year had passed, and I still hadn’t started school, I had graduated from being the Hogmanay DJ playing records, to an adept “radio producer” creating tapes of music and chat for a beloved uncle in Australia. Mammy’s record collection was my main source of material, and I practiced hard, because birthday requests for Uncle Harry were sent to Radio Clyde and I was responsible for recording the greetings. Many years were spent listening to Frank Skerritt and Sydney Devine Saturday morning shows, capturing these missives, so the tape could be sent to Australia in time for 11th November. So long before January 1975 when I turned five years old, I was well accustomed to having headphones on, listening to the radio voices and capturing big moments.
Aged around 7 I got my very own radio cassette recorder machine inherited from a work colleague of my Dad’s, as he was upgrading his music system. The radio had a short-wave band, a new encounter, which literally opened up the world for me to explore from my bedroom in a small Scottish village. Turning the dial slowly, different music styles and foreign voices speaking unknown languages would come through between areas of static noise and interference. Then people with beautiful English and the hint of an accent were discovered, and I was introduced to the English language broadcasts from several countries around the world, predominantly Europe. The Cold War between West and East European ideologies was at its height, and so the likes of Radio Moscow and Radio Tirana could easily be picked up loud and proud. I know they had an agenda (who doesn’t if we are honest) but hearing such a different approach to the news was a real eye opener to my younger self. It broadened my mind to other cultures with different ideas, and made me realise that despite the differences, we were all essentially the same.
I recall searching for the American Forces Network broadcasts of baseball matches to service personnel based in Europe. Something about Friday night’s listening to a game springs to mind, even though I didn’t fully understand the terminology of the sport. For over a decade, an hour was spent with Radio Moscow’s English program early on Saturday mornings. Sunday afternoons, before the Top 40 show and after attending my Baptist Sunday School, were spent in the company of Vatican Radio’s Latin Mass. The ultimate blend of Ying & Yang, West verses East, Protestant verses Catholic, and emblematic of my refusal to be stereotyped in any way.
I kept a radio logbook which alas disappeared years ago, but when I met my husband, I delighted in seeing his radio memorabilia instead. He had also been an avid listener as a child/teenager and we discovered a shared love for short-wave radio. Over the years we have bought some very nice SW radios with ever greater range capabilities. To this day, and I’m fifty years old now, I’ve never lost that wondrous thrill I experienced as a seven year old, on hearing something different from an unexpected distant place.
Sadly, especially in the last decade, my SW radio hobby has got harder to sustain. Many SW stations have ceased broadcasting completely, and the internet age seems to have created a nightmare listening scenario, with household Wi-Fi connections causing hideous interference. Living in a ground floor flat probably exacerbates this problem, even though we don’t have an internet home connection ourselves. Before widespread personal internet connectivity and mobile phone use, my handheld SW radios could provide excellent to moderately interfered sound quality, making the listening experience enjoyable. Just switching them on today finds your ears assaulted by white noise that seems almost impenetrable, however hard you try and tune into a station. Going 21stC I’ve discovered a mobile app called Radio Garden that allows you to find radio stations worldwide. This has soothed my aching heart a little, although they are regular broadcast outputs, rather than the distinct programs made for a global audience that SW radio specialised in.
For the last 16 years I’ve been involved in hospital radio and enjoy the freedom to play a wide and varied selection of music. Many of the UK’s domestic radio stations seem to be networked these days, and the music output in particular seems to be quite formulaic as a result. Hospital radio provides a unique environment to communicate with and entertain patients, and the limits are defined by your music collection sources and the presenter’s imagination. In a way, this platform has enabled me to return to my childhood radio roots.