Friday, October 26, 2018

Radio isn't dead

I like radio, I grew up with it on. In those days it was mainly the Home Service and the Third Programme, and it was the hey day of British broadcasting. We called it the wireless. We called it listening to the wireless, but wireless means something else now - but then so does radio. Radio isn't dead. I don't have radio on in the house any more although I do own three old valve radios - wirelesses from the late '50s and early '60s. Not a collection I've just ended up with them. They're all in good working order but I never listen to them. I do go through phases when I flip on the radio in the car though. I listen to bits of things - very 21st Century. Last week, for instance, it was lovely hearing Isaac Julien interviewing Stuart Hall. Slightly creepy though. Stuart Hall died in 2014. But he had a really beautiful and sonorous radio voice. Listening to him is like sinking into a really comfortable, well-upholstered armchair. It's a luxurious comfort. His voice is (the present tense seems appropriate) always reassuring, it's reasonable and it's deeply critical all at the same time. You could say that he was one of the last great public intellectuals. And he was a staunch advocate of  British diversity, an insightful commentator on what it means to be black in Britain, and a key theorist of identity politics. But how could Isaac Julien be interviewing him live? It turns out it's an engaging format in which the guest - Julien in this case - interacts with someone, now dead, that they admired. The producers use excerpts from audio archives to simulate conversation. Meanwhile the guest has no idea what material will be used. Ingenious. And it makes for good radio. As it turned out we had a fascinating exploration of art and politics, identity, diversity and the Windrush generation. Stuart Hall was as engaging and eloquent as ever and his mellow tones reminded me of how good radio could be. If only I could listen again on a valve radio I would.