There it goes again. DINGdong-DINGdong-DONG-Ding DingDONG. We really need to change the setting on the doorbell from Big Ben to something a little less Keeping Up Appearances. It’s been going non-stop this week. Cable TV providers wanting us to change provider, electricity providers wanting us to change provider, door-to-door chugger commandos wanting us to provide. This time it’s different though. It’s the postman with a parcel. I’m sure being a postman has its downsides. Still, there must be some sort of psychosomatic benefit to seeing a householder’s face lift when they are handed a parcel and gently nudging them to sign the calculator/debit-card machine/teleporter with the magic wand before watching them disappear excitedly into the house.
The parcel this week was long awaited: an internet digital radio. The world is now at my fingertips. And for a radio junkie, that is like winning the lottery. (If the lottery prize was a lot of radio stations)
For as long as I can remember, there has been a radio on in the background. Mike Murphy used to send me off to school in the mornings. Hearing Gay Byrne’s morning programme meant I had a cold and was being kept home. When James Alexander Gordon read the classified football results on a Saturday afternoon, we would try to guess the result based on the intonation of the way he said the name of the first team. At nightime, sometimes, I fell asleep to the BBC World Service news. This had the rather unwelcome side effect of a series of nightmares set mainly in brutal civil wars. I was chased by the Serbs around Blarney, the Rwandan Hutu militia kept me hostage in a potato picking concentration camp, my father was on the run from the Israeli Defence Forces, wanted as a Palestinian terrorist.
It affected me in other ways too: To this day, I can’t listen to the sound of anyone eating because Gerry Wilson on 2FM used to get sweets from listeners and eat them on air. Noisily.
Along with eating, walking upright some other activities that can’t be mentioned before the watershed, there are few things that humans have evolved specifically to do and one of those is listening to the radio. Think of a summer day when you sat in a car with the door open, one leg on the grass, supping from a can of Tanora and listening to a match and you will remember being in complete equilibrium.
And now in front of me, encased in a modest black plastic box sits the portal to thousands of voices all over the world. Perhaps conscious of the power it contains, the manufacturers have resisted the temptation to make it look like the control panel of a spaceship. This thing has proper buttons and nobs and a handle. It’s as if they are saying: “It’s a radio, get twiddling!”
After switching it on, hooking it up by broadband and browsing by country, the question arises: where to go first? Why, Ghana of course! The news there is reporting on the State of the Nation address by the country’s president. Under the heading of education, President John Evans Atta Mills apparently is pleased to announce that “We are on course to eradicating the school- under-trees phenomenon”. Just to be clear, these are not cosy cottages nestling in a copse. These are outdoor classes – under a tree. I wish them luck. Of course if schools under trees were a problem in Ireland the solution would be to cut down the trees.
Not all radio stations sound appetising. Under the Government section, I find that it is possible to listen to the meetings of California Waste Management Appropriation Committee but when I switch on they appear to be on a recess. And no doubt they are finding it difficult to sell advertising during the break as it’s just dead air.
As I’m about to move off to find some Haitian dance music stations I notice an intriguingly titled menu option: Scanners.
It is what I think it is – Police, Fire Department and Air Traffic control radio from all over the world.
Suddenly I am transported to the mean streets of Chicago listening to the police communicating to base. I join at a bad time. There is nothing happening. And for some reason the police do not seem intent on spicing it up to reflect the reality of TV Police Fictional Drama. The most exciting snippet I heard was this:
“23 to Base: I’ve made an attempt to contact the individual but just got voicemail, Left a message, I’ll try again later”
I listen with bated breath hoping that I’ll hear the grizzled old cop Detective O’Hara and his partner Sergeant Wachowski put the siren on and say: “Maybe it’s time we paid Mr Ernesto Montoya a personal visit and left a message he’ll definitely check.” But no, today all is quiet. Too quiet. Time to go where the party is and right now it’s time for Ethiopia’s Sheger 102.5 FM. “Keep it locked right here” says the DJ cheerily. I will Mr Ethiopian DJ. I’m all ears.