Monday , 25 June 2018

The Magic of Radio

Frederick Noronha

Let me share an experience dating back to four or more decades ago, one which I remember as if it happened yesterday. We were sitting at home as children, sometime in the 1970s, with time hanging loose on our hands. Those were days of few distractions. Somehow, while fiddling the radio knobs, we came across a radio play that was being aired by the then-legendary BBC, or the Beeb as it was simply called.

Radio plays are quite unlike television. You don’t get a ready-made imagination built up for you. As you listen to the varied voices coming from five or six thousand kilometres away, you need to somehow think-up who the characters could be, what they would look like, and their entire settings. Remember: those were times when you couldn’t just Google or rush to the Wikipedia to find out how a place looked like.

The result was magic. The play got intimately connected with one’s life. Though I don’t recall what the story was about, I still carry with me the feeling of a sense of awe, wonderment and surprise on encountering that amazing piece of the written word turned into sound.

Of course, there was something special about the Beeb’s radio plays, how they were selected and how they got dramatised. (I know of only two Goans who made the grade – the ex-Entebbe University of Iowa professor Peter Nazareth, and the Chicalim-based talented writer Fatima Noronha, who shares a surname but is no relative.) But more than that, you can blame it on the magic of radio.

Ours was a generation (born in the 1950s or 1960s) influenced by radio. The other day, via the Net, I came across an article in which was titled ‘Grandpa, What’s a ‘Radio Station’?’

To people of my age, this might sound shocking. But it’s true. Younger generations have grown up in a radio-invisible world, and this article asks why are people “tuning out of traditional broadcast radio”. Another issue it raises is: “When will traditional radio stop ignoring the internet? And, everyone under the age of 25?”

Whatever the issue, these are changing times. As we see dramatic changes in technology, the media, and the ways in which we can distract ourselves, the decline of the old is only to be expected.

Yet, I do not think it apt to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. To junk a technology that has served us for so long and with such intensity just because we have more seductive technologies to play with.

Radio was our friend. Maybe one should say ‘is’. Just as books have been, and are. There are many happy memories associated with this technology, simple yet intimate.

I recall the time my brother and I, got down to labouriouisly finding out about IRCs (international reply coupons), buying ten of those from the general post office, sending them to Stockholm. To get, in return a lovely blue-and-rich-yellow tee shirt which we shared among ourselves for six or seven years in total.

(When one got the chance to visit Sweden, maybe two decades later, an email to the radio station there mentioning this childhood incident got me an invite to drop in. This lead to a chance to meet up with a Brazilian producer who acted as if she was meeting a long-lost friend. Indeed, radio opened windows in the then isolated world of Goa.)

The Africa-returned youth of our times were many steps ahead, and would show us the records they got from Radio Netherlands, the language training courses from Moscow or Bonn (the then capital of West Germany), stickers from South Africa (never mind that it was Apartheid-ruled) and what not.

Zenon Tellis of Verem is still active in the world of DX-ing, or writing to distant and ‘unknown’ radio stations. Saish Deshpande, of All India Radio-Panaji, only this week, reminded us of Now Music USA, Ray McDonald, and the like. Google for this, and be surprised by what you find.

If you go to YouTube or even Facebook today, you can find memory-provoking stories of the old Radio Ceylon, the “oldest radio station in Asia”. You can come across familiar names like Vernon Corea, Shirley Perera, Mervyn Jayasuriya, Eric Fernando, among others.

Around 1976, when we couldn’t find a friend to play with, the radio was our friend especially for introverts like me. A Jetking radio could then be ordered via VPP (value payee post), and the cost was Rs64 or something like that. One could even buy the set in knocked-down-condition and assemble it yourself, if you were adventeruous. I wasn’t!

After Radio Ceylon’s early morning programmes ended, we struggled to find Radio Australia, at 11-ish. This was usually on the bulky suitcase-sized three-in-one valve-set that our dad had purchased from Dalal’s in Mapusa. I always envied the probably foreign (scarce to come by in those days) set that wafted out the music from Down Under loud and clear from Uncle Jack’s St Anthony’s Cottage, as we passed by in our village. Getting a clear radio signal was the closest a pre-pubescent boy could get in those media-starved times.

While in high school or college, after the locally-imposed curfew time for youngsters at the local club, at 8 p.m., it was rushing home to listen to the five minutes ‘sports news’ bulletin. In between, we struggled to tune in to the limited options of Western music via Saturday Date and AIR Bombay. Imelda Tavora was a legendary name on the airways.

College kids played tricks on one another by sending in fake (and sometimes embarrassing) requests in each other’s names. Yuvavani gave a few youth (there simply wasn’t space for all, so choosing was done in a hit-and-miss way) the chance to speak out on air. In those times, everybody listened.

But these are only fragmentary memories. The Anjuna-based author Domnic Fernandes, with his amazing memories, has a full chapter in his book ‘Domnic’s Goa’, which details the programmes of AIR on a typical day some four or five decades ago.

Today, radio is lonely and forgotten. Because of its fore-long tightly controlled nature in India, most of us have skipped its potential, and now see it as the poor cousin of television.

This is simply not true. Even in Europe till this day, radio dominates the morning hours of millions getting ready for work, and unable to sit glued to the idiot box at the busy part of the day (mornings).

Had it not been for the Mapusa-based citizens’ group Goa Desk, the World Radio Day (which is observed on February 13) would have gone unnoticed. They marked this day on the social issues calendar, which led to all these outpourings too.

Sajan Venniyoor, a former programme executive at AIR-Panjim and now an active proponent of community radio, repeatedly reminds us that Goa is one of the few states nationwide which lacks even a single community radio station.

Till we wait for more broadcast options to open up, the new technologies allow us to podcast, to record some form of oral history that reflects the diversity of our communities, and celebrates Goa as a multi-lingual, diversity-rich region.

This is a technology whose potential is underrated, especially in our part of the globe. If you’d like to make a difference, search online for ‘World Radio Day’. Spend a moment to listen, critique, or provide feedback to a radio station around you. Everyone deserves better; and everyone can make it better.

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