Radio is a personal medium. It’s my medium. It’s also been the medium of the baby boomer generation, of which I am one.
Radio, by the end of the 20th century, had become for many who were born in the two decades after the end of WW2 part of the soundtrack of their lives. Tanja Bosch says, “…radio creates a textured soundscape that is experienced as part of the material culture of the home; it contributes to the creation of domestic environments and it can help maintain and establish identities.” (Bosch, T. E. (2014) ‘Commercial music radio, race and identity in South Africa’, Media Culture Society, Vol 36 (7) pp. 901-915. Quote at p. 902).
And I think that what holds true for South Africa also applies to other nations and cultures. Indeed, Bosch states that she’s reflecting here the work and thoughts of Jo Tacchi (‘Radio Texture: Between Self and Others’, in Askew, Kelly and Wilk, Richard R. (eds.) The Anthropology of Media: A Reader Blackwell Publishers: Oxford (2002), pp. 241-25). And I’d go further, to say that radio – for a certain generation – has become the soundtrack to life at home, at work, and on the move in cars; and yes: it has given and shaped the identity of millions.
In the process, radio has become part of our day-to-day lives (see, for example, Bausinger, Hermann (1984) ‘Media, technology and daily life’, Media, Culture and Society 6:343-351). And it’s this everyday that fascinates sociologists, historians and anthropologists alike. In the example of radio it’s embedded, if you will, in the soundscape of the routine: at times it’s the soundtrack, at others the background to our existence. Sometimes ignored, sometimes paid attention to, but always there.
My radio memories go back to the early 1960s, and Saturday lunchtimes. As my parents prepared the meal I’d hear in the background Jack Jackson and wonder at the way he seemed to be having conversations with recorded clips of comedy shows. Kenny Everett and Noel Edmonds were clearly influenced by Jackson’s Record Roundup which ran from 1948 to 1977 – on the BBC Light Programme and later on Radios 1 and 2 as the Jack Jackson Show.
I recall Emperor Rosko – also on Saturday lunchtimes in the 1970s – with, what I later discovered was his Franco-American impersonation of Wolfman Jack. It was exotic, exciting, insistent and vital: just what radio should be.
There was Kenny Everett who, even though it was clear his characters were just him putting on a silly voice, entranced me with the way he interacted with the pre-recorded material.
Also Noel Edmonds as presenter of the Radio 1 breakfast show from 1973 to 1978 and his prank calls when he dialled up telephone boxes in far-flung parts of the UK (I always wondered how he found the numbers, him being in a studio in central London next to Broadcasting House, and all).
I remember RNI (Radio Northsea International) and the voice of Don Allen, with his lush American-tinged DJ voice and his love of country and western music. RNI was also the station that established the idea of turntable hits. One I remember with affection is (Brandy) You’re a Fine Girl by Looking Glass. I was delighted – and lifted back to my teenage years – when in 2017 I went to the cinema to see the second Guardians of the Galaxy film.
And that, in short, is what a soundtrack to a life should be all about…