The wireless (bless it)

In a recent conversation I made a passing (and as I thought, quirky) reference to hearing a news report on ‘the wireless’. Two of the people I was talking to looked completely baffled. As far as they were concerned, the ‘wireless’ was WiFi, or cable-free internet access; whereas what I was referring to was the radio. 

As I was growing up, the radio played a huge part in my life. As a teenager I used to keep my transistor radio (yes, another baffling expression for the young people of today, I suspect) close to my bed and, last thing at night, would listen to Radio Luxembourg; my favourite DJ was Tony Prince, or ‘Prince Tony’  (or ‘your royal ruler’) as he liked to call himself. The quality of the medium wave broadcast was terrible, but that was how we expected it back then. And on Sunday afternoons it was Alan Freeman on BBC Radio 2 (or was it even still the ‘Light Programme‘?) with ‘Pick of the Pops‘. And at other times I would listen to radio plays. And on Radio Eireann (later to become RTE, the Irish national broadcaster), I would get a particular thrill from the ‘sponsored’ programmes, which as the name suggests were short (15 minutes, I think) programmes, each sponsored by some company or other. Some of them were totally absurd, with incomprehensible corporate advertising slogans interrupting the music. But great fun.

Nostalgia is almost always self-deception, but I do think fondly about the sense of community that you could get from radio back then. But I also know that radio today is far from dead. Indeed, from the computer at which I am sitting I can get live radio streams from just about any part of the world. Talk radio in the US has a huge (if not always honourable) role in political life. And classical music stations are sometimes quite extraordinarily good.

What I won’t get any more, though, is the thrill of the old wireless sets, with the names on the front of odd places like Droitwich from where the BBC transmitted its radio signals, or Athlone which was home to the RTE transmitter. I still have one, though in the vintage context rather a high-tech bit of equipment. My parents bought it, I think in the early 1960s. It is a Philips radio, and it is a stereo hi-fi machine (a bit of technology that was nearly useless as there was pretty much no stereo programming or broadcasting). It still sits in my house and, when switched on and warmed up (a process that takes a minute or two) it still transmits programmes from those channels that its particular technology can pick up. And it looks really good.

Yes, I must be really old!

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3 Comments on “The wireless (bless it)”

  1. Iain Says:

    I don’t know about being old, but its interesting to see the retro design and feel of radios being used to push DAB (digital radio) onto us. My father was blind and in those days that entitled him to free radios (as well as exemption from a radio/tv licence) and so i well remember the styling, the big buttons and of course exotic sounding (to children in Scotland)places on the dial (Athlone? where on Earth is that? Hilversum?). Classic sets not from Philips but from Roberts.

    So now it is weird to be walking through Currys and similar outlets and see stacks of DAB units with dials and wooden (fake often of course) cases.

  2. Patrick Says:

    Ah yes, I’m in my early thirties so I don’t know if that qualifies me as an old fogey but I remember the excitement as a child at finding a radio station from some far-flung place. I often spent hours scanning the dial and feeling like a wireless explorer finding new and exotic places – depending on the weather conditions I could even get Radio Moscow from my bedroom in Dublin. There just isn’t the same sense of achievement in finding things on the Internet…

  3. jacky Says:

    WEll, you are not alone, i grew up in an under-developed country, i was not used to the latest electronic stuff until probably 10 to 17 years after their release, but i always ahd access to radio, more precisely portable cassete radio, i used to call them “wlakman”, so all those new wireless stuff that i am seeing right now are like new light for me.


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