As a child in the 50s the wireless was the most significant source of information and entertainment for everyone in my family. We sat together by it and listened to Two Way Family Favourites, Educating Archie, Take it from Here and the Billy Cotton Band Show. We made daily visits to the Archers and Mrs Dale’s Diary, and laughed at Hancock’s Half Hour and The Goons. On Sundays, following much knob twirling and high pitched whistling, we’d tune into Radio Luxembourg for The Ovaltineys Club – a highlight of the week. More years on than I care to believe I still remember the words of all the Ovaltiney songs. For anyone similarly afflicted – they have a Facebook page. ….
By the 60’s we had television, a Dansette record player and a transistor radio now ‘demoted’ to the kitchen. As a young teenager my passion for music had kicked in big time, and for that off shore (pirate) radio ruled. My father didn’t approve of it so I did a deal with my mother which meant I could listen before school in the mornings provided I ate some breakfast. Any mention of Radio Caroline will forever carry the taste of hot buttered toast and a memory of the morning struggle to back comb my hair over as much of the school beret (wear compulsory) as possible.
A decade later and I’d moved overseas, first to North Africa and then the Middle East. Radio was a life line, a link to the world of home, we tuned in to BBC World Service for accurate information, for plays and quizzes, for Lily Bolero on the hour leading in the World News and marvellous Paddy Feeney on Saturday afternoon sport. Local radio in Tripoli finished at 10pm each night and once it had gone off air we could, provided atmospheric conditions were right, just about pick up Radio Luxembourg – such excitement when reception was good! Although primarily an Arabic service Tripoli radio did, at that time, broadcast a very small number of programmes in English. Liable to cancellation if the station had anything more worthwhile to put out I remember them with great affection, especially one of ‘popular music requests’ presented each week by JL, in ‘real life’ an expat engineer. This was a programme that was dreadful to the point of being entertaining; for a start the station didn’t have a music library, so JL played his own small collection of Rod Stewart albums repeatedly and otherwise begged and borrowed vinyl from friends. We had several hundred LPs so saw quite a lot of him and – since his knowledge of music was limited we could often persuade him to use stuff that might not have got air time elsewhere. JL didn’t have much of a clue about the technical side of presenting either and on/off buttons on microphones seemed to present a particular challenge. I asked him once, after a few beers, why he did the show and he said it was in the hope of getting laid – something he’d not to date managed but he thought a DJ would have better opportunities in that direction than a sewage engineer. It was a fair point. His hopes had not been realised when our turn came for the ‘departure request’ – my dear dear friends Mary and John …. silence, crackle, muttered oh shit … leaving on a jet plane tomorrow so just for them it’s Rod Stewart and Sailing. A year or so later, however, relocated in Bahrain, we received a postcard which simply said ‘The Old Grey Goose has Flown. JL’
Through five years of living in the Gulf World Service remained important but we also had the magic of Radio Dharhan – aimed at expat oil workers it played non stop music round the clock with a very short news bulletin and weather forecast (usually hot ) on the hour. We used to run a reel to reel tape for hours at a time then select and mix the stuff we liked on to cassette (see our Christmas 1979 set up above!) – the only problem was no track listings were ever given so we’d have to guess at title and artist. Visitors were regularly asked – just listen to this, any idea who it is….?
Returning to UK in the 80s radio helped me during my (few) ‘housewifeandmother” years to retain a sense of myself as part of a larger community, particularly when completing an OU degree. Despite good intentions we did acquire a television set -it was slightly embarrassing to have weekend visitors bring their own portable set (Wimbledon finals weekend) but very consciously over the years refused to let it dominate family life. Juggling children, house, social life, studies and work as long as I woke each morning to the Today programme, and even if the news was sad or bad, things felt more or less under control.
Now, once again I have time spare for listening and radio is a continuing joy in my life. The range of stations and programmes available is breathtaking and I love the advances of digital and online radio, iplayer catch ups and podcasts which free one from the tyranny of the schedule. It’s been quite a journey from the days of tuning in to the Light Programme to sitting on a holiday hotel balcony in California listening to R2 on my laptop secure in the knowledge that even should the modern world go pear shaped, I’ve got the wind up radio to revert to and there’ll be someone broadcasting something somewhere.