Thursday, 11 March 2010

Memoreeeees are made of this....


We were radio listeners when I was a child. Our radios weren't so much 'audio equipment' as pieces of furniture; large, wood-veneered, highly varnished, with a row of teeth-like buttons and big no-nonsense dials, they took a while to warm up and had a rich tone well suited to the fruity accents of BBC announcers. 




When I was about to leave for boarding school for the first time, my mother gave me this little transistor radio, gleaming in its blue and cream box. Such a thrilling present! I was 11, and the year was 1960. 



I had no idea then that this little object was to be such a lifeline over the next 7 years. Like torches, transistor radios were forbidden. We had to listen surreptitiously in dorms after lights out; reception was often poor, and Radio Luxembourg came and went as we strained to listen avidly to our favourite pop songs, interspersed with tedious adverts (poor Danny Blanchflower, I hate you still!).



 On Sunday nights, as silly 13-year-olds, we would fight to stay awake till 11 pm to spend a further hour listening to the Top 20, waiting for the Number One (such an odd mix in those days: remember The Tornados and 'Telstar'? Or the mighty contests between Frank Ifield and Elvis for the top slot?) and as a result, would stagger tired and underslept through Mondays.

Later, once we were old enough to move from dorms to twin or single cubicles, I listened, rapt, to weekly instalments chronicling the life of Chopin - soppily romantic to a girl of 16 or 17 - and learned to love his music. (Would that have been on the Third Programme, predecessor to Radio 3, I wonder? There weren't many stations to choose from in the '60s.) 

In 1964, pirate Radio Caroline arrived. We didn't know what had hit us or our stifling, rule-ridden, cooped-up lives. For this thrilling and groundbreaking phenomenon we needed more powerful transistors, and even then reception had a frustrating way of dropping out through ferocious static hiss and crackle. Our meagre pocket money was spent on batteries, but oh, it was so worthwhile! (Only in adult life, with vastly-improved audio quality as standard, were we to find that the words of some of our old favourites had not been heard accurately through the dense interference.)


In the mid-'80s, I bought this old Bush radio from an antiques dealer as an anniversary present for my then-husband. As we waited for it to warm up, I joked with the shop owner that perhaps we would hear Lord Haw-Haw's voice. Slowly the radio lumbered into life; from its depths, to our surprise and amusement, came the unmistakeable tones of Winston Churchill delivering his famous speech of 1940: "...we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds...we shall never surrender...".

The radio was kindly given back to me by my sister-in-law after her brother's death, and it still works well. Sadly, the little transistor doesn't, but it served me well in its heyday. I can still hum the tune of 'Telstar' and I would still vote for Elvis over Frank Ifield any day.


13 comments:

Marcheline said...

How absolutely WONDERFUL!!!! I hope you are using those great radios as decor in your house. I can see them now - one on a bookshelf, the other on a hall table, perhaps with some dried hydrangea blossoms in an old silver vase... gah, the possibilities are endless. Keep those radios always, what great memories and fantastic to look at!!!

Friko said...

Elvis v. Frank Ifield ? No contest!

A trip down memory lane; so much of it is nowadays and the more distant the clearer they become. ooops, that's old age, isn't it?

valct4joy said...

Yes, you're talking about my youth! In South Africa the competition was Elvis vs Pat Boone (anyone remember him?) We didn't get TV until around 1976 so were very dependent on our little transistor radios once we left the nest and the large radiograms behind. Those little transisters were the iPods of their day.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Adam Faith v. Cliff Richard was another .
Then there was Tommy Steele . And whoever sang Red Sails In The Sunset . Paul Anka ... I bet you can still sing "It was only Puppy Lo - o- ve ".
But no one was as good as Buddy Holly , not even Elvis .
Pure nostalgia ! Now I'm tottering off to drink a Rooibos tea and listen to something soothing .

Rattling On said...

I still call it a wireless!! We have an old Roberts with the enormous battery that only goes in one way (if you have one you'll understand this!) and wooden sides. I love it.

Fran Hill @ Being Miss said...

You're right! That first radio looks like a person!

Linda said...

All of those radios look modern compared to the giant set I remember from when I was four or five. We didn't have a television until I was about eight, so radiogrammes were serious things then!

Bee said...

Do you still own all of these radios? This is a charming post; I love the specificity of your memories. I have an old-fashioned looking cream Bush radio in my study. I rarely listen to it, but I love it for its looks.

Thanks so much for the reminder about comfortable footwear! I have already been fretting about this issue, because of course I would like to be a little bit stylish in Paris. But if it stays really cold, I may just wear my Uggs (the most comfortable shoes ever) and be done with it.

Oh, yes: your new header is so FUNNY. Very appropriate for a blog in which cats heavily feature. Okay, speaking of cats, our cat was having a really strange face-off with a strange cat in the garden today. They were both making high-pitched keening sounds, the likes of which I've never heard before. Our cat doesn't really meow much, so it was like he had been possessed by an alien.

Isabelle said...

I never liked Elvis. Rather liked Perry Como when I was little, though.

judy in ky said...

I loved my little transistor radio when I was young! I took it with me everywhere. And I hid it under the covers on my bed, so I could listen to it at night after lights out.

Lucille said...

This was such a great memory tripper. My father used to build radios ( in old cigar boxes) at the kitchen table and like you I have never been without a transistor radio under the bedclothes or scattered round the house.

love those cupcakes said...

I'd forgoten about Radios Luxembourg and Caroline and the radiogram (lovely piece of furniture) I was given as a birthday present when I was 14. When I was younger, though, I loved listening to Educating Archie. Now admit it, you can't beat a ventriloquist on the radio.

mountainear said...

I had a little transistor radio too - which I loved for years and years - you've brought back loads of memories.

I think it might had eventually met its end when it fell in the bath. Sob.

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