Why I love radio – a personal history of the medium

February 13th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Roger Lilley

I grew up in a home filled with music. My parents often had the radio on for most of the day on weekends. We listened to music, news programmes, radio plays, and interviews of important people. I recall the family sitting around the radio listening to “Sunday’s world at 1 PM” catching up with what was going in the world outside of our immediate environment. We also often listened to radio plays after dinner and the Top Twenty on LM Radio or Capital Radio 604 on Sunday nights.

13 February is World Radio Day — a day to celebrate radio as a medium; to improve international cooperation between broadcasters; and to encourage major networks and community radio alike to promote access to information, freedom of expression and gender equality over the airwaves. World Radio Day is an observance day held annually to celebrate radio, why we love it and why we need it today more than ever.

My parents gave me my first radio when I was about ten or eleven years of age. It was a simple battery-operated device, medium-wave only of course, and was capable of receiving only local radio stations. By stringing up a length of wire outside and wrapping the other end around the receiver I managed to hear some more distant stations, but the radio had poor selectivity, so it was often difficult to separate different stations.

A real highlight was the receipt, on my thirteenth birthday, of a mains-powered short-wave, medium-wave and long-wave receiver. I strung up a ten-metre long wire antenna outside my bedroom window and started listening to far-off radio stations. Voices from the BBC, Voice-of-America (VOA) and TransWorld Radio (TWR) filled my bedroom in Germiston. Suddenly I could draw the world into my bedroom. I kept a notebook in which I recorded what I heard, on what frequency and at what time.

I learned about time zones from my radio before it was every covered in my school syllabus. I purchased a world map which I put onto my bedroom wall and upon when I drew dots showing the places I had received radio broadcasts from.

Many of the African stations were in Portuguese or French, but Swaziland and Transkei had English broadcasts.

The only problem was that listening to the radio was very anti-social. My valve-based, mains-powered radio receiver had the disadvantage of being anything but portable. My small battery-operated unit was too simple a device to offer any decent reception or sound quality, so I decided that I needed a good-quality transistorised, battery-powered portable radio.

Popular brands at the time included Sony, National Panasonic (now known as Panasonic), Sanyo, Philips, Blaupunkt, and a few others. Since my bedroom radio was a Philips, I decided to purchase a Philips all-band receiver. FM had been introduced to South Africa a year or so prior and it was wonderful to listen to music without atmospheric interference.

This receiver enabled me to share the joy of radio with family and friends, though I soon discovered that fewer people than I imagined shared my enthusiasm, so I often ended up listening on my own.

During my high school years, I learned about the technology that made radio possible and developed an interest in electronics which steered my career.

As an adult, I never lost my passion for radio and have had the joy of restoring a few old ones. I am also a licensed radio amateur.

Radio, of course, forms the basis of all wireless communication – both analogue and digital. WiFi, satellite communications, cellphones, even remote controls all rely on basic radio principles.

The idea of World Radio Day was first proposed by Spain’s Radio Academy in 2010. The following year, in 2011, UNESCO declared the first World Radio Day. Since then, World Radio Day has been celebrated annually on 13 February, a day chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the United Nations Radio, the UN’s international broadcasting service, which was established on 13 February 1946.

The day also serves to promote the radio as a means of communication in times of need and emergency. Radio has been described as “theatre of the mind” because of the lack of visuals when compared to television. Like reading a book, listening to a radio play requires one to use their imagination to “see” what’s being described.

Radio remains, despite the introduction of TV and the internet, the most readily available medium that can disseminate information to reach the widest and most diverse audiences in the shortest amount of time.

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