10 things the pandemic makes you nostalgic for…

…pictures of old radios, valve sets, transistors radios and even more. I’ll come to them in a moment, but first consider this.

There’s something compelling about taking refuge in the past, especially when memories can appear to offer more emotional comfort than the often alarming and worrying news headlines of the present day. I’m writing this in mid-August, as Britain goes through an up-tick in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. Behind those figures are people sick, sometimes in pain, and occasionally having to go to hospital and into intensive care. The outcome for some has been an untimely death. That is worrying, and a reason to pray. We can’t face this alone.

So, in order to find a little comfort through distraction, some of the most popular video (is that even still a thing?) boxsets have been about pure escapism – either to an imagined 1990s early-adulthood, or a fictional version of recent history, or a distorted image of life on the edge in modern America. Friends, The Crown, and Breaking Bad respectively are popular on Netflix. Apparently.

One show that brings back a lot of memories, initially for the short pieces on TV-AM (remember that?) is the original Through the Keyhole presented by David Frost and Loyd Grossman. Those two are interesting media characters. David Frost was known for his 1977 interview with Richard Nixon, which was later turned into a play and a film.

Loyd Grossman is a fascinating renaissance man: a cook, a journalist, a campaigner for museums and a punk guitarist. I recall attending a conference in the early 2000s on the parlous state of British heritage and hearing Grossman giving an impassioned speech about the need to conserve our past for future generations to enjoy and learn from. Now there’s a topic that resonates today, especially with some histories being hotly contested and argued over.

The Frost/Grossman incarnation ran on British TV from 1987 to 2008, and was proudly produced at the Yorkshire ITV studios in Leeds. It was relaunched in 2013, fronted by the ‘comedy’ presenter Keith Lemon (born and raised in Leeds, Yorkshire), but came to an end in 2020.

These days, with the Coronavirus, social distancing and lockdown, it has meant TV and radio shows coming from presenters’ kitchens and spare bedrooms, which I have mentioned in previous articles here and here. In the world of television it’s led to some creative distancing by camera crews and production staff. For example, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how CBeebies, the BBC TV channel for under 7s is organising itself during the Covid-19 era.

Which I find deliciously edgy, as if the puppet Hacker T. Dog is at any minute about to say something completely unscripted and wholly inappropriate. The anticipation of a major transgression of the Producer Guidelines is reminiscent of watching Zig and Zag on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast in the 1990s.

Now, in these times of 2020 when lockdown has become a word in constant usage, other TV companies are finding new ways to socially distance their camera operators. One idea has been to put mini cameras on dogs. Absolutely. Celebrity Snoop Dogs. Really.

So this is evidence, if any were needed, that Channel 4 will take some unusual pitches. Perhaps then my idea could work: how about “Celebrity Wireless Sets” (Stop yawning at the back). The task for the panel would be to guess who the celebrity is just from looking at their radios. I know what you’re thinking. But, it’s no less daft than putting cameras designed for bicycle helmets onto dogs. Is it? Well, is it? Be honest.HMV

1 So, at number 1, from around 1952 there’s this, which was a wedding present to my parents (before I was born. Apparently). I had new valves and capacitors put in about fifteen years ago. Switching it on reminds me of the Ed Ruscha painting “Smells Like Back of Old Hot Radio“, on display at the Tate Modern in London. The great thing about Ruscha in that 70s period was that you got exactly what it said in the title. Go on, follow the link. It always makes me smile.

SW Hoher 1 (3)

2 Number two. This came from FNAC in Les Halles in Paris. Probably in the 1980s. It’s in the number 2 slot because it’s French. There’s memories of some great cinema of the period: Manon des Sources (starring Yves Montand), Le Dernier Métro (directed by François Truffaut), The Return of Martin Guerre (starring Gérard Depardieu), and Diva (directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix).(c) Martin Cooper

3 This, at number three, is the radio that comes as standard in the bottom-of-the range Peugeots. Still following a Francophile theme here, and a reminder that some of the best Bande Desinée has been published in the land of the Peugeot. Enki Bilal, Lob and Rochette, and Hugo Pratt, to name just a few great European creatives from the 1980s.


4 I’ve put this at number four. It was an old FM/MW/LW portable. I include it here with a touch of nostalgia. I recently found it in a box in the shed and sadly failed to revive it. Oldies but Goldies. More Hits More Memories.

IMG_13435= And then there’s the world of DAB radio. I didn’t realise until just now how many digital radio receivers have crept into my house. There’s six of them, and together they take up the rest of this top-ten. Let me reassure you that I’m not a compulsive buyer of radios. But I have two rack DABs, a pink portable (cheap and nasty from an on-line auction site), two JVC units in the kitchen and front room downstairs, and there’s one in the other car too. French as well. That’s not even counting the potential for the telly to get radio signals, both via Freeview and through apps I’ve installed – or the radio apps on my mobile ‘phone.

Then from the world of tomorrow is my newest radio. Trouble is, it looks nothing like a radio. No dials, smooth lights, tuning buttons, volume knobs, or sockets for power, or headphones. In fact it’s an oversized USB stick. I’ve not put it in the top ten yet. But just you wait. The future could well be ‘software-defined-radio‘.


Which kind of supports a move in recent times to redefine radio’s image. I wrote about it here in 2018 when the RadioCentre – a British trade and lobby group – offered images of contemporary radio listening like this one. PHOTOGRAPHY-Young-guys-Breakfast-Radio

I’d love to see your pictures of your radios. Drop me a line via the comments box below. You could have your picture featured on this site.

In the meantime, proof – if it’s needed – that old style radio still has a place in our lives. News this month that in the post-analogue digital world some things really do remain the same. Linear radio still makes news – especially when Kiss (which used to be a pirate station in south London in the 1980s, and now is a national digital brand owned by Bauer Radio) makes a new presenter announcement. The Kiss breakfast show is to be presented by Jordan and Perri. It is a conscious decision to attract more young listeners, especially with the links to social media already built up by the duo. It’s also some good news to come from the Bauer group, especially after I wrote about May 2020’s sad news and the demise of some famous local radio station names.

And they’re quite right to raise the issue of early starts. I’ve had so many, but that’s where the big audiences are.

Just for a change of scene, I found this recently. It’s a short film by a US radio jock. A behind-the-scenes look at local radio, American style. Definitely not understated. At all. How many times can you mention the name of your station? Again? What’s the station name? Don’t Touch that Dial.

Drop me a comment in the box below. Let me know how radio works in your life, and what equipment you use to listen to it – and what station you’re tuned into right now.

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