When I started off writing stuff for radio, I seemed to fall into the groove of it fairly easily. I think the reason for that is on account of the love I had for radio from a ridiculously early age.
The place where I lived, in north west Ireland, was well placed to pick up the BBC Radio stations and it was these that I listened to the most. Every week, in our house, we got the 'Radio Times' and the 'TV Times' and, while the rest of the family were thumbing to see what Ken Godwin was up to, I was sneaking off to the back pages of the Radio Times to read about what the coming week’s radio had to offer me.
Nobody else was interested in foreign BBC radio channels, the domestic services were all they needed so this remained all my territory, my secret place.
I listened on a cool transistor radio which had three bands, MW, LW and FM (VHF). It had an aerial which extended very long and this picked up those somewhat distant voices with impressive ease.
I used to listen to the dramas on Radio 4. One Sunday afternoon, as a child, I listened to the entire production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ mostly because the wonderful lilustration in the Radio Times showed two old wolves dressed up in old people’s clothes. I expected the wolves to appear in the play somewhere and, although they never did, I was still very taken with what I heard.
It’s funny that I remember practically nothing about the most memorable play I heard. It was one Saturday night, underneath the bedclothes. It was set in Wales, I know that, and it was about two young boys – I think one was called Dai (I realise this is not a stretch) - but, critically, he died and his friends would go and visit him in the cemetery. The images all this evoked in my room were alive and tangible to me. Although I don’t remember the play very well, the effect it had will never ever leave. It was, and sorry for the cliché, the power of radio in action.
As I turned teen, I moved up the channel a bit to Radio Luxembourg and such. The music and the naughty condom ads were too much to resist. Then my usage tapered off, as other matters arose.
In early secondary school, all the peer pressure seemed to revolve around how much adult TV viewing you could get away with over your weekends. You earned your spurs in this regard by being able to speak knowledgeably about whatever film or series was on. If you had been allowed to see it, you were a winner. Needless to say, my thoughtful and kind parents were very careful about what I was allowed to watch so I fared very poorly in these televisual tests of manhood.
This all came to a head one Friday night when RTE Television was showing the TV premiere of ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ starring Clint Eastwood. Mark Askey, who got to see absolutely everything on telly, warned us that this was the true proof of a man – whether he could get to see ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ or not. I was surely lost… until I had the most wonderful idea.
On that radio I used to listen to so much, my domain had been largely the MW and LW bands but there was a wonderful idiosyncrasy about the FM/VHF band. Before Irish television caught up with the world and moved to UHF (ultra high frequency) it used to broadcast on VHF (very high frequency) and this was the very self-same VHF that was on my old radio.
In the simplest terms, I remembered that I could hear the TV on my radio.
I tried to stay up for Coogan’s Bluff. I made myself as small as possible in the corner and I uttered not a peep but the programme announcer alerted my parent to the sex and violence aspects of the feature and I was summarily dispatched.
I tuned the movie in as I climbed into bed, pulled up the blanket over my head, and listened to the whole thing. It was very entertaining and, on Monday morning, even Mark Askey was astonished that I could describe the film in such graphic detail. My standing went up, I moved slowly towards manhood within the group.
Thus began quite a long run of listening to unsuitable movies on the radio. The disembodied voice still holds a strong sway over my thoughts and deeds.
I feel a huge bond with radio. I only wish I could describe it to you better.