The radio is one of my comforts in this life.
My first radio was red and ran on batteries. I won it as a prize in a fundraising activity in Year 1. I don’t remember what we had to do, but I do remember the fear of asking people if they would give money to sponsor me balanced against the hope of winning the Brownes Dairy Pack or, if I cracked $50, the red radio. I do remember that Tammy raised several hundred dollars and got to meet Daryl Somers from Hey Hey It’s Saturday. We were all so jealous.
I used to love to listen to my red radio just for its novelty. Perhaps that’s how I got into football and cricket as a child. Listening to the broadcasts on my red radio, being just like Dad.
When I was about eight, Dad came home with a new tape player, and I inherited the old stereo, the one with the broken tape player but a working radio. It had short wave, which I thought was the most wonderful thing in the world.
I spent a long time roaming the short wave band, amazed to pick up signals from America and England. I found an American religious program once, which made me proud, because people I knew would always complain about how the radio and the tv were so anti-Christian. I told Mum excitedly, but she didn’t want to listen to the American religious program. She said there were a lot of strange Christians in America, which confused me, because the things they said sounded a lot like church.
The short wave signals were always fleeting. If I moved the radio in the wrong way, they would disappear. Even if I didn’t move the radio, the Earth would move, I suppose, and the signal would go.
I liked to go to sleep with the radio on, a friend in the dark, murmuring.
Growing up near Collie in the 80s and 90s, we had two stations on AM – ABC Local Radio and Radiowest – and one on FM, Classical FM. Perth was a wonderful place full of more radio stations than you could even think of. It wasn’t till after we moved to Bunbury that Triple J came.
For me and my brother, our teen years were a desperate struggle with Mum and Dad about music. We wanted our alternative rock music – The Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Radiohead, Metallica for a while – on the radio and the tape player, in the car and in the kitchen. Mum liked quiet; Dad hated swearing. The war was long and unresolved. Triple J came close to a complete ban a number of times. I didn’t listen to the voices so much then, and the old radio had broken completely. But I did listen obsessively to Triple J. I remember listening to the entire Hottest 100 from start to finish when I was 17, and knowing every song. Oh, I was lonely, and horrified with myself by the end.
When did my addiction to Radio National begin? It’s come upon me slowly, but now I know every program on Radio National and I listen to it at all hours of the day and night. When I stopped going to uni – well, I never really stopped going to uni, but when my undergrad days ended – Radio National took up my education.
Milan Kundera knows what it is to love and need the radio, not the music but the talking:
Out of despair, out of nervousness, she turned on a little radio beside her pillow. To get back to sleep she wants to hear a human voice, some talk that will seize her thoughts, carry her off to another place, calm her down and put her to sleep; she switches from station to station but only music pours out from everywhere, sewage water music, fragments of rock, of jazz, of opera, and it’s world were she can’t talk to anybody because everybody’s singing and yelling, a world where nobody talks to her because everybody’s prancing around and dancing.
A surveyor rang the other day, wanting to know about radio listening. My instinct was to hang up, but instead I did his survey, because I am addicted to radio. I could not do his survey very well, though. He almost grew exasperated with me, because every answer was ‘Radio National’ or ‘Newsradio’ or, reluctantly, because it is so middlebrow, ‘720 ABC Local Radio’. ‘But don’t you listen to any music on the radio?’ he asked. No, I should have told him, there is no station which plays Morphine, the Cure and Regina Specktor with no ads and no competitions. But he wanted to know who had the best competitions. I told him I hated those competitions SO MUCH. This is one thing I could still be passionate about. How DESPICABLE commercial radio is. How much I HATE commercial radio competitions. Never mind the music. It sounds so terrible too. Always holding a single emotional note of manufactured states of love or disappointment.
No, I live in Radio National, where everyone is serious, and everyone is thinking, all of the time. They talk to me about the state of the world. About politics, religion, identity, books and history. They do it all night and day. I weary of it sometimes, but I’m addicted, so I keep listening.