Friday 17 January 2020

Roslyn Dee: 'Radio the star of all our media'

Notebook

'...we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves one simple question: What on Earth would life be like without the magic of radio?' (stock photo)
'...we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves one simple question: What on Earth would life be like without the magic of radio?' (stock photo)

Roslyn Dee

It was where I first encountered the wonderful singing voice of John McCormack. Where I discovered, listening in with my football-mad grandfather at tea-time on a Saturday, whether Coleraine had beaten Linfield or Glentoran or whichever team they were lining out against that weekend. It's also from where the long beep that heralded the weekday news bulletin at 5.30pm always prompted Mike, our bearded collie, to jump off the sofa.

Why? Because that beep was the noise that he associated with my parents' arrival after work, to collect him from his 'day care' with my grandparents and take him home.

The wireless. So many of my childhood memories revolve around the wireless that had pride of place in my grandparents' home.

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I can still see it - a big lump of a thing, perched on a shelf up to the left just after you walked through the door from their postage-stamp-sized hall and into the living room.

Even as a child in my own home, the radio was king. I can still remember that evening in November 1963 and the sombre voice on the radio announcing President Kennedy was dead.

Almost 20 years later, there I was, buying bread one December morning in a shop on Smithdown Road in Liverpool when the voice on the local station, Radio City, brought the devastating news that John Lennon had been shot. To hear that news at all was one thing. To hear it delivered in a Scouse accent, and to a shop full of shocked Liverpudlians, was something else entirely. I've never forgotten that voice - and the way it brought the news that day.

For it's the voice that makes radio so intimate. Which is why - in this past, sad week - we feel so personally affected by the loss of Marian Finucane and Larry Gogan. They talked to us in our living rooms, in our cars, on our walks with our dogs. In airports, beside holiday swimming pools, and in countless cities across the world.

And it's that intimacy, that one-to-one radio encounter that delivers such extraordinary power - including the power to rivet you to the spot.

Like that unforgettable Nuala O'Faolain interview. I was walking up the stairs that Saturday morning - to turn off the radio in the bedroom, actually, because it was so loud it was drowning out the one in the kitchen - when I heard Nuala's voice. And then what she was saying. So I just sat down, right there, on the stairs. And I didn't move until it was over.

From the moment we are born we are attuned to sound. A baby turns its head when it hears its mother's voice. In the animal kingdom, dogs bark or whine, lions roar, and birds sing.

The voice, whether belonging to man, bird, or beast, is inextricably linked to emotion.

There's no visual distraction with radio. It's all about the voice.

I think of the late Ben Kiely, or the voice of Garrison Keillor, both examples of voices with the ability to hold you, absolutely rapt, while happily cocooned in the intimacy of their radio embrace.

The voices on my grandparents' wireless and those that, half a century later, I listen to in my kitchen or my car both wield exactly the same power.

The power to comfort, or challenge, or entertain, or simply inform. The power to speak to us. To connect us. To make us feel less alone.

And in a week when two extraordinary voices have been stilled, we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves one simple question: What on Earth would life be like without the magic of radio?

Irish Independent

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