Thursday, 31 October 2013

(Internet) Radio Days

My enforced immobility has been made a pleasurable experience thanks to the internet - what a superb augmentation to human happiness! Not only can I keep in touch with my office and the outside world, I can watch films, learn (what a boon Wikipedia is!), and - a new discovery for me - listen to a wealth of radio stations that can provide exactly the mood I seek.

Watching Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) made me realise how important radio used to be as the soundtrack of one's young life. Today, with such a plethora of digital channels available, one forgets what it was like to have only one radio station to listen to. In my case, it was BBC Radio 1 (from 1967 to 1973). This is what everyone of my age listened to; what was played was talked about. From 1973 onward, Radio 1 would have to compete for my attention with Capital Radio, until my budget stretched to the regular acquisition of records and cassettes. Into the 1980s, my only regular radio listening was the nightly John Peel programme on Radio 1.

So I have a great deal of nostalgia associated with Radio 1; I was delighted to find this wonderful website - Radio Rewind - which is stuffed full of the jingles that used to intersperse the non-commercial airwaves of the BBC's radio stations. (If your formative rock'n'roll years were in the UK, stretching from the late '60s into the early '80s, you must dive into these jingles - here.) A brief digression here - but when the BBC split its Light Programme into Radios 1 (for the youth of the nation) and 2 (for the easy-listening set), the Corporation had no one to turn to for recording jingles. These had to be done by session musicians in America to get around the archaic unionised structures within the Beeb.)

But one can only listen to so many jingles. The songs - I must have the songs. Not just those number one artists, but the less well-known acts that formed the fabric of the pre-Punk seventies - Colin Blunstone, Hurricane Smith, the Strawbs, Family, Nazareth, Ace, not to mention myriad American voices that formed an integral part of the soundtrack of my early youth.

The first wave of internet music revolved around peer-to-peer music 'sharing' of dubious legality [my thoughts on this issue here]. The cloud has allowed us to move on. President Obama's realisation that American's economy's forward trajectory is predicated on the dynamic growth of digital, and that this is more important than the individual interests of copyright owners and their lawyers, has helped. Much of what you can listen to and watch on YouTube and most internet radio stations is now entirely legal, and there at your fingertips.

Now, part of what makes radio unique is the way that the playlists are structured. Yes, you can put together your own, but even if you own a library of tens of thousands of digital tracks, you'll be listening to what you know, and in an order that you decide. Radio gives over that task to someone else. And that allows for serendipity - the chance to listen to something you'd not otherwise have listened to yourself. A good DJ's task is to entertain and to educate and introduce new sounds to listeners. This makes John Peel the greatest of them all - a role that in Poland was (and still is) filled by Marek Niedźwiecki. A good DJ loves the music, and informs, rather than being a monstrous ego in love with his own voice.

Internet radio is still in its infancy. Lacking disc jockeys, and without (as yet) period jingles, the radio stations offer only part of the whole experience of total nostalgia immersion. If the '70s is you bag, let me direct you here (SkyFM Hit70s) Listening to the playlist here gives good verisimilitude of what we'd have been listening to back then, with hits from both sides of the Atlantic.

However, for something beyond a surge of nostalgia, I found my favourite internet radio station is this one - RAB Radio 1 - American Rhythm'n'Blues from the early 1940s to early 1960s. Lots of Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Howlin' Wolf, Lionel Hampton - I'm here for an old familiar atmosphere and discovery - of acts and songs as today unknown by me.

Like my old record player, cassette player, CD player, typewriter and indeed television, my radio has just become redundant, its functions taken over by my laptop - which serves as the universal centre of entertainment and labour. The theory of digital convergence has become real.

This time last year:
Another office move

This time two years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time three years ago:
My thousandth post

This time four years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time five years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

This time six years ago:
Red Arrows over Lincolnshire from 30,000 ft


DC said...

Any chance you listened to short wave back in the day? I was happy to find that there are websites with collections of interval signals - that was a blast of nostlagia for me.

There's even one announcing live broadcasts from "occupied Czechoslovakia." From 1968. A real piece of history.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ DC

A great blast! Many thanks for this:)