The 1940s media technology nothing can better

Radio

There is an adage that says, don’t try to reinvent the wheel: that is, if an invention is perfect, leave it be. One of these perfect inventions, I believe, is the transistor radio. That’s because

  • It is light and portable, and you can buy one small enough to fit in a pocket;
  • The battery lasts for months, perhaps years, depending how much you use it;
  • It always works, as long as you’re in range of radio waves. No electricity, recharging, modem or internet capability needed;
  • When the weather is very hot or very cold, it still works;
  • You can do other things while you’re listening to the radio—you can drive, garden, cook, whatever;
  • There’s a world of entertainment for everyone, young, old and in between, and broadcasts available in almost every language. There are music of all types, dramas, news, advice shows, arts shows, science shows, chat and talkback.

In fact, radio was the world’s first live interactive media. When talkback started in the 1960s, the law in Australia had to be changed, because it was illegal to record phone calls, and radio stations needed a slight delay so they could censor inappropriate callers.

When I was about 9, my parents bought me my first transistor radio. It was a palm-sized red one with silver buttons. Back then, my favourite show was the children’s story request program on Sundays, starting at 6am.

In those days, also, I can remember my grandparents still had a ‘radiogram’ that was a big piece of cabineted furniture, in a polished wood that my grandmother would put a vase of flowers and family pictures in silver frames on top of. They called this piece of furniture the ‘wireless’, and it used valve technology rather than transistor technology. No doubt they thought the radiogram a superior being to the transistor, which was invented in 1947.

When I was a teenager living in Auckland, New Zealand, the soundtrack to my life was the cool music on Radio Hauraki, so called because it had started as a pirate station broadcasting from a boat out in the Hauraki Gulf from 1966-70.

By the time I was listening to Radio Hauraki, it was many years after those pirate days, and it was well established as a legal land-based station. But it still had that edge of being rebellious and even a bit dangerous, with Kevin “Blackie” Black (1943-2013) the coolest of all DJs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Imagine my excitement when, as a young newspaper reporter in the 1980s, I actually got to interview the great Blackie himself at his house.

These days, of course, you will tell me that radio has been modernised and that I should stream it over the internet using an app on my phone. Yes, I can do that. But somehow it’s not the same: it eats my phone battery charge, for a start.

And I rarely listen to the radio for the music these days, because I can download any song I like and play it whenever.

But in today’s new environment of music on demand, something has been lost. I remember how, as a 14-year-old, I used to sit eagerly by the radio, finger poised on the red ‘record’ button of my cassette player, ready for when a favourite song happened to be played. It felt like winning a raffle when a song you’d been waiting for actually came on.

I still like a transistor radio. My current one is a retro-styled powder blue, which I did an ink and watercolour painting of, as you can see above.

I’m getting another one soon, a digital pocket-sized number. But essentially, it’s the same perfect invention even in the 21st century: simple, easy to use, strong, and lasts forever.

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What do birds dream of? Or, the soundtrack to my life

Many years ago, I read a short newspaper story that has stayed with me ever since. It was about new research that had found that birds actually dream. And what do birds dream about as they slumber on their tree perches? Apparently, they dream of the songs they will sing tomorrow.

I know, “Awwwww”.

I too dream of the songs I will sing tomorrow. Well, to be more accurate, songs are often popping up in my head, whether I’m waking or sleeping. There’s a soundtrack to my life, and it’s not coming from headphones (in fact, I rarely play music via ear buds or headphone, and maybe this is why).

These are not songs that I want to listen to and some are songs I don’t even like. They just start playing, seemingly randomly, and leave me to solve their riddle as to what they are connected to. They are usually old songs I haven’t heard for a while. Many mornings I wake with a song going round in my head that has nothing much to do with anything. It’s just there. This music often has a shape in my mind, too, like a graph, with colours. In my imaginary mind, I know all the lyrics, too.

Usually, I don’t pay much attention to the songs in my head, unless they’re especially amusing or annoying. But this month, I thought it would be fun to make a list of what I’ve been listening to in my mind. Here goes:

This reminds me of the daily trial just trying to get through crowds of people to do ordinary things like get on the train, find a seat (good luck), buy lunch. Picture: ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

This reminds me of the daily trial just trying to get through crowds of people to do ordinary things like get on the train, find a seat (good luck), buy lunch. Picture: ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Thursday March 20

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover came into my mind while waiting for a train. You know, “Get out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Sam…just set yourself free”. I had been thinking about the rat race and how awful it was sometimes to be trudging along with thousands of other workers, never getting very far. Or, I feel like a fish in a pond full of others, pushing and scrabbling when a few grains of food are dropped on the top of the pond.

In a way, that “rat race” is like a bad lover that we just can’t seem to get away from. My inner psyche is obviously telling me to make a new plan to do just that!

Later in the day, my song-brain wasn’t so kind to me. It started playing MmmBop!, that 1997 teenybopper hit by Hanson. Oh dear! I think my brain was inspired by an ad at uni for something called Kimbap, a Korean students’ group function.

Friday, March 21

Comin’ through the Rye: OK, I was watching a TV show about the Scottish highlands when this one started up. But they didn’t feature this song. I remembered it because I used to sing it as a child and once won a singing competition with it.

Saturday, March 22

Oh yes, a day when I don’t have to cross town on trains or buses. I can just work from home instead. It’s peaceful, and Everything is Beautiful comes to mind. I laugh to myself, because humming this song used to be a code long ago between me and a photographer I worked with. If we didn’t like the way our interview/photo shoot was going, one of us would start humming this song. And we knew the real words were, “Everything is shit-ful, in its own wayyyyy…”

I was too busy the rest of that week to think about writing down the songs in my head, but come Friday, I remembered again to take note. It’s good to have a break from noting anyway, because otherwise you might make conscious song choices.

Friday, March 28

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, by Leo Sayer. This is good, because it’s always been one of my favourite feel-good songs. And Friday is a feel-good day because I don’t have to get up early tomorrow!

Later in the day, as I’m walking to the bus at the start of my journey home, my brain is singing Barry Manilow’s Copacabana in all its glory.

On the train, I give up my seat to a pregnant woman, and straight away, Don’t Blame it on the Boogie, Michael Jackson’s great 1970s disco beat, is playing up a storm. This was one of my favourite songs in 1979 when I was a teenager.

Saturday, March 29

I’m writing a lecture for my master’s class on book history and the publishing industry, and up comes River Deep, Mountain High, the original 1966 Tina and Ike Turner version. No idea where that came from, but I like it.

Sunday, March 30

It’s 5pm, and I’m feeling calm about having done enough work to start the week with. The music starts and it’s a famous ballet tune whose name I can’t recall. But it’s very calming. When I come to write this blog, I remember that it’s The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, by Tchaikovsky.

Thursday, April 3

I’m on my way out the door to my job as a university lecturer, and that classic song, the theme from Sesame Street, pops into my head, just like that: “Can you tell me how to get, How to get to Sesame Street?”

Whatever next?

As I say, I don’t know where these songs come from, most of the time. My mum plays songs in her head too, but she takes it a step further: the songs in her mind are all ones she makes up herself. She said she doesn’t ever need to play the radio, because there are always new songs playing in her head anyway!

And with that, I begin a new month of madness—I wonder what songs this month will bring?

John Lennon —- conspiracy theories, a new photo and an imagined audition

What if John Lennon auditioned for The Voice? It’s true, these shows do foster a rather conventional idea of what a popular singer should be, a bit like saying that the only valid art is realism.

Bryan Patterson's Faithworks

John-Lennon-2297592

JOHN Winston Ono Lennon’s 73rd birthday today coincides with the publication in Britain of a rare Lennon and McCartney picture (above) taken a year before they hit the big time. The two were photographed in the summer of 1961, a year before the Beatles scored a record deal and became, well, rock and roll history.

MEANWHILE

A new US poll reveals that 12 per cent of American voters believe the government was engaged in the assassination of Lennon.

This supports the theory that you can get 12 percent of people to agree to just about anything.

MEANWHILE

Some smart cookie imagines what would happen if a young Lennon auditioned for The Voice.

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The evolution of music (in just a couple of minutes)

When my friend Bryan posted this on his inspirational blog, I just had to reblog it. This young a cappella group manages to sing the history of music in four minutes. (Coincidentally, I’m doing a History of Rock course through coursera.org at the moment). This is brilliant!

Bryan Patterson's Faithworks

A musical history lesson from the fabulous Pentatonix

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