We live in a world of technological wonder. We can stream last night’s television, and sometimes tomorrow’s movies, over the Internet to our computers and our phones. We can use webcams to have video chats with our parents on the other side of the country (or in other countries). For years, now, we’ve been able to order everything from flowers to pizza, from clothes to furniture, online.
I am no stranger to technology myself. I learned to type on an electric typewriter, it’s true, but I was among the last to do so. Now, I compose almost everything on some kind of keyboard, and my collection of electronic paraphernalia includes (in reverse order of size) an iPhone, a Kindle e-reader, an iPad, a netbook, a laptop, and a desktop computer. My previous jobs have included technical support at a major direct-to-consumer computer company, and IT director of a mortgage brokerage.
It’s with some amusement, then, that I confess that over the last several years I’ve fallen in love with a medium that is decidedly old-school: Radio.
In truth, my relationship with radio has been a slow-burning romance rather than a fast-paced affair fraught with fiery passion. The seeds of love were sown when I was all of eight years old. I’ve shared the story before, though not here: it was late at night, and stormy. I was in bed in my room in my grandparents’ house, where I used to spend every summer. The hum of the window-mounted air conditioner blocked out the sounds of the New Jersey nighttime, as well as the soft murmur of the adults in the living room below, and my only company was an old transistor radio that my mother had built from a kit when she was in high school. In my effort to find something to help quiet my not-quite-ready-to-sleep brain, I turned the knob back and forth, finally settling on a recording of Bill Cosby telling the “Chicken-Heart” story. I would have nightmares about it later, but in that moment I was enthralled.
Radio continued to be a constant, if low-key, companion. As a pre-teenager, I remember staying up into the wee hours with my own clock radio playing top-forty songs at me while I read with a flashlight under the covers. As one of the only teenagers in California who did not have a television in her bedroom, I listened to Larry King interviewing celebrities on his radio show, long before he ever had a relationship with CNN (and long before he became a caricature of himself). One of the more memorable shows featured Robert “Freddy Kreuger” Englund who literally went hoarse doing the “Freddy” voice for listeners who called in to ask questions.
My last teenage memory of radio is related to NPR and its radical cousin Pacifica. In Fresno, in the mid-to-late 1980′s, the local NPR station broadcast audio dramas on weekend evenings. I remember hearing the first American import of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that way, and have fond memories of an audio production of Little Women that featured brat-packer Ally Sheedy as Jo March. As well, KPFA out of Berkeley had a late night show called the Evening Reading, that featured men and women with amazing voices reading short stories and novellas.
For many years after that, radio withdrew into the background. I had records (remember vinyl?) tapes, and CDs to listen to. My balmy summer nights with early lovers were spent with classic jazz and American standards as the soundtrack (more retro tendencies), and when I met and married Fuzzy we typically only listened to radio in the car, preferring CDs and tapes in the house – and now, of course – most of our music is digital.
Radio came back into my life in 2002. I had just had LASIK surgery and was supposed to keep my eyes closed as much as possible for 24-48 hours. An internet friend of mine anticipated my levels of boredom, and sent me the entire audio version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy on CD. It helped keep me sane.
But I’m fickle about some relationships, and again radio receded from my life. It wasn’t until we moved to Texas in 2004, and I began working from home, that I rediscovered the medium. It began slowly – I would listen to the local NPR station during my breakfast hour on weekdays, and while lounging in the bath on Saturday evenings (a ritual that remains important to me), when, again, I would often hear short stories. Saturday mornings, while puttering in the house, NPR staples like “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” were – and are – favorite sounds. I played a local pop station while cleaning, and if I was feeling homesick for California, I would listen to local stations from San Jose and San Francisco streaming over the Internet.
A couple of years after that a good friend of mine suggested I get involved with a “podio” drama he was part of. “What’s that?” I asked, and he explained it meant audio drama disseminated via pod-cast – radio drama for the Internet age. Since then, I’ve been involved in a couple of different audio projects on a regular basis, and have even done audio improv on the net. But when I’m working in the Word Lounge (my writing room – I don’t like to call it an office because it feels too corporate) it’s radio that I return to, especially when my husband is away on a business trip and I can’t settle enough for sleep.
I still listen to a lot of NPR. Talk radio is almost as good as my boxed set of The West Wing DVDs as a writing companion, giving me the sense of water-cooler conversation without requiring my interaction – and far less repetitive – but I’ve been using a website called RadioTime to explore live streaming radio from around the world. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself listening to a French-language pop station out of Morocco. I don’t speak a lot of French, but the musicality of the language was lovely, though it was a bit jarring to go from Arabic-accented French to the latest Katy Perry track.
My other go-to station, of late, has been a community radio station, East Coast FM, out of East Lothian, Scotland. RadioTime describes it as “community” radio, and it really is. The music ranges from pop to rock to Celtic folk and even a weekly country show – old school country from before I was born – and the DJs are a mix of seasoned spinners and students from local schools who rotate through a weekday-afternoon show called “School Bell.” I started listening because I found the various accents enchanting (yes, I am an accent whore), but I continue because they’re such a nice bunch of people – I’ve even interacted with them via email, and they’ve played some of my requests and suggestions.
I realize that video is fast becoming the medium of choice for the digital age, and I’ll cop to spending as much time trawling YouTube for interviews with favorite actors or music video mash-ups of my favorite television shows as anyone. I’ll also admit to being a fan of the web-cast The Guild but I dislike video blog posts because I read faster than most videos, and I like to multi-task.
Radio, on the other hand, can be everything from background noise to a soothing companion in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night, to a form of entertainment that is chosen with intention. Even better, radio is moving with the times: in addition to streaming stations over the net, I can use apps like WunderRadio to listen to my favorite stations over my iPhone.
Despite the resurgence of radio in my life, though, I still have one, unrequited desire: I want a radio show of my own.