Thursday, February 6, 2014

Early Radio Memories (1)

Worcester, England.  The year was 1971 and I was not yet fifteen years old.  The Irish Republican Army had bombed the Post Office Tower in London, decimal currency had been introduced in the UK, sixty-three people had been killed in a stairway crush at a Celtic-rangers soccer game, and the yearly inflation rate was 8.6%.  Of course I was largely unaware of these dreadful things as a young teen, my interests and influences lying elsewhere.  Setting aside school for the moment, for I was not the most excellent of pupils, I think it accurate and fair to say that my life was ruled and shaped by two things.  Rugby and music.  Now that’s an odd combination of the conservative and the progressive.  I would eagerly await the monthly magazine Rugby World, yet at the same time pore over the pages of New Musical Express (as well as the scurrilous “underground” presses of Oz and Frendz.)

But music was expensive.  A vinyl LP cost in the region of two pounds sterling which was outside of the immediate reach of my pockets.  Buying an album required careful saving and then selection.  As a result there was much lending and borrowing of vinyl, and with the advent of the cassette tape recorder much illicit recording as well!  Records were played on a Decca mono player in my room, or occasionally on the new stereo radiogram in my father’s study.  Now that was a great sound!

Radio was the solution, and looking back I realize that this is how my interest began.  There was little in the way of pop radio in the UK at that time.  Radio One, the BBC’s answer to the offshore stations of the 1960s, was bland, boring and entirely establishment.  Not the station for us radical, rebellious, anti-establishment public school types who nevertheless wanted to go to university and be successful!  (For U.S. readers that reads “private” school.) Besides R1 only broadcast during daylight hours, sharing its frequency with another station, Radio Two, after seven o’clock.  It was good for one show however – Pick of the Pops with Alan Freeman every Sunday between five and seven.  Then the entire “Top 20” would be played with minimum talk, making it relatively easy to record the entire music collection whilst fading out before the end of each song!

An alternative in the evening was the mighty Radio Luxembourg which broadcast pop music on 208 metres via a thirteen thousand kilowatt transmitter (the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world back then) from the Grand Duchy, but somehow that wasn’t the best of media.  It was to an offshore station, Radio North Sea International, broadcasting from the radio ship Mebo 2 on medium wave and short wave that we all turned.

This is isn’t the place to recall the history of RNI.  Wikipedia does it rather well http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_North_Sea_International
and there are many other columns besides written about their exploits.  It is enough to say that not only did it provide us young teens with a music channel that truly appealed to us, it planted in the minds of some of us the notion that radio ought to be free and unfettered, and not under the control of governments or corporations.  And that was, some might say, a slippery slope!

(Also posted on the sister blog: 55555.)

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