Photo by Martin Herrera
I think it is safe to say that I am addicted to listening to the radio, and so I have to add this as another square in the patchwork that makes up my personal comfort blanket. This might seem an odd confession after my earlier post on silence but the two can live side by side quite nicely. After all, silence can be a rich and intense experience and is best served in small and delicate portions. Too much and you can be overwhelmed and bowled over. It is also a bit of an acquired taste - not everyone relishes some of the questions it asks of you.
Radio has been my constant companion all through my life. My earliest memories all have a radio burbling away in the background. I know that my mum had the radio on every day from the moment she woke up. I suspect it was like a friend to her, a known and trusted voice keeping her company. For her it was always the home service, which eventually became radio 4. And as a result I have fond memories of those big old radios that had to be tuned by turning a knob - and for some distant or weak stations it could be a tricky and skilled exercise to get it just right. Then there were all of those exotic sounding station names that ranged across the face of the dial and the globe - like Hilversum. Now for all I know Hilversum is some ghastly dump of a town with pitiful weather, a dull view and a low average IQ but whatever it is like in reality it will forever be etched into my memories.
There is so much to commend listening to the radio. I can't sit still for long enough to watch much television. I find I get twitchy and need to be off doing something instead of sitting there being spoonfed, so radio suits me perfectly. And these are some of the reasons I love it:
- As some or other famous person observed once, "the pictures are better on radio". Your imagination is called on to do some of the work and that is never a bad thing.
- You can do pretty much anything and still listen to the radio. You may sometimes need to tailor your listening to the activity or maybe vice versa, but I think generally speaking your favourite station is usually the best because you are so used to its intonations and rhythms. So you can zone in and out and still get the reassurance of it in the background.
- I find if I am doing something creative I need music - predominantly classical but sometimes I find I need rock music.
- It is a reliable constant soundtrack for your life. Whatever happens, its always there. What more reliable friend has there ever been?
My listening habits change through the years. It's true that through my teenage years I drifted into radio 1 but even then I always did find a space for radio 4 too. Lately I've found more time for classical music. From time to time I suffer bouts of insomnia for several nights in a row, and I'm always reliant on the radio to keep me sane. If I'm wide awake there's always something to listen to somewhere, but if I'm trying to sleep then a radio set to the lowest level (so I can hear the cadences but not the detail) is often the final soothing option to get me off to sleep. And if you are ill, maybe burning up with a fever and unable to sleep the radio can be the only thing you can tolerate. You can still enjoy it with your eyes closed and tucked up under a pile of blankets.
I confess I am known to have radios on in every room in the house so I can go from room to room and task to task and not miss a moment. Life was a bit confusing for a while when DAB radio came in and the small but significant time delay became apparent - the echoing effect created by one digital and one analogue radio tuned to the same station and in close proximity is quite disturbing.
If you feel the need to be really anoraky about the whole thing there is a fantastic yearly publication called the Radio Listeners Guide (there is a tv equivalent too). You get reviews of every type of radio as well as a great raft of information on satellite and internet radio, digital radio mondiale, short wave radio... Its geeky but it is also incredibly useful if you are going to buy a new radio. I had some specific requirements for a new bedside clock radio, including the ability to plug your ipod in - and lo, it came up trumps!