It’s a question that I’ve been considering for some time. My research has taken me into music and film archives. I’ve walked around art galleries, as well as browsed along library shelves. Click on the book cover to read a preview of my work.
So, what does go through our minds when we switch on the radio; the wireless, as we used to call it?
For Van Morrison in the 1960s it was memories of listening to a transistor radio with his Brown Eyed Girl.
For Evelyn Waugh in the 1930s it was at first the realisation, in a scene in Scoop, that the radio was faster than Fleet Street’s printing presses at getting the news out. Later, in his 1957 novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold he thought listening to the radio could set off a nervous breakdown and paranoia.
For Bryan Ferry – during his days with Roxy Music in the early 1980s – it was the realisation that, “There’s a band playing on the radio / With a rhythm of rhyming guitars. / They playing Oh Yeah on the radio / And so came to be our song.” Bryan Ferry was, in short, filled with a wistful nostalgia. What song do you remember and treasure in your heart from when you were eighteen? Drop me a line in the comment box below.
George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Bob the Builder, and Barry Manilow have all been affected by listening to the radio at some stage or another. It has – at times – been their creative inspiration. Yes, you did read that list correctly. They’re all from the baby boomer generation (Bob too, probably), which in itself is deeply significant in the history of radio listening over the past 100 years.
The generation before was also transfixed by the wireless. You can count fans such as Agatha Christie, James Joyce, and…. Vera Lynn.
Arthur Askey in Back-Room Boy from the 1940s held the radio, and the precision timekeeping of the GTS Pips he worked ostentatiously in the basement of London’s Broadcasting House to produce, in contempt.
Robin Williams screamed down his microphone in pure exuberent joy in Good Morning, Vietnam, bringing mixed memories of foreign (mis)adventures in the sixties to life in his 1987 movie.
Meanwhile, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground recognised that radio (well, specifically, a New York station) saved Jenny’s life in Rock and Roll.
My book Radio’s Legacy in Popular Culture pays tribute to these artistes – and many more.
It tells the history of radio in Britain through some three hundred songs, movies, novels, works of art – and radio programmes too.
Arthur Dent, the fictional hero of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, used to work as a BBC producer before he took a ride into space, escaping from Earth moments before his home was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
All the writers, musicians, actors, film-makers and artists who created these texts have been inspired by their listening experiences. The radio has at some stage or another been their muse…
And, before I forget, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers were captivated by the thousand watts of power in the pine trees in the dark as they drove along listening to the Radio On.
Let me know your favourite radio memory. Drop me a line in the comment box below. Enjoy your listening in this centenary year in Britain.
This link may get you started. Enjoy.