Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Radio (An Ode or Elegy)

Was it evenings, or was it early mornings? It was during the evenings that, in a small village in Central Europe, my grandfather used to tune in, probably on long waves (marked LW on the radio's dial), with the antenna extended, searchingly inclined toward the angle where the signal was stronger, to BBC's foreign service programming. The song I used to hear, during such evenings, in-between the programs and amidst heavy static, was It's a Long Way to Tipperary, interpreted by an army choir (or something that sounded like that).

Early mornings, around 5.30 am, in a city in Central Europe - it is the early 1980s. I sneaked into my grandparents' room (my other grandparents) the night before, to sleep there, and now I am awoken by the sound of the radio. The receiver is tuned in to Kossuth Radio, and I hear, every morning, while dawn is breaking outside, crisp and clear, a stylized fragment of that Kossuth song that is the station's signature.

It is noon, or early afternoon, and my mother and grandmother are baking, cooking, doing things in the kitchen. I am there with them, and we are all listening, amidst doings and goings, and playing, to the radio: the program where the man talks and plays with kindergarten children; the one where listeners call in with comments, opinions, their questions; the classical music quiz, around noon, in which the guest has to guess the piece from which he just heard a small part; the hourly news reports; then the music - always sad, charming, melodious, already old. The soundtrack of the kitchen was provided by the radio - the soundtrack of our days, weekdays and Sundays (when I would look forward to that program with the quirky news from around the globe... always listening to it during dinner, or immediately after).

The sound of early mornings, of the dawn, for me, is that of the radio. The sound of distant places - of an unattainable, noble, civilized UK, for example, or of any place that still holds the promise, because it is unattainable, far and remote, and noble-sounding. The sound of afternoons spent cooking, of the warmth of the home, comes from the radio.

Which "radio," though? What do you mean? Any signal transmitted through waves long, short and medium (medium waves that still feel warmer than FM)? No! The empty, commercials-and-Top40s blasting, pre-programmed stations, with no face, no personality, no human presence? No. 

Instead, radio as the medium of sociality. Where life is, where my society lives, where I hear its pulse, its everyday beating - nothing special, is always special. Where I meet it and learn about it and keep in touch with it; where I live in the society of which I am a part, about which I care, and which has to care about me. We are a part of it, it is with us - and the radio is its voice, and thus our common voice. The medium that creates community, inasmuch as it broadcasts it everyday. There is a we also because we share in an awareness of the we, through the medium of the radio. A medium that is human, that is intelligent, cultivated, whose music makes sense and moves the intimate recesses of the heart (even if you don't know it); that can be common and everyday, just like us; that can be silly, or laugh-out-loud funny, or childish - when talking to children. That is like us, because it is we who are mediated - by intelligent, cultivated, professional people, whose careers are the radio, whose lives are in and with the radio, whose vocations are to be this radio, this voice of ours - a part of who we are.

Addendum: Perhaps not the most fitting, but the most famous. And it is about this future we live in today.    


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