Radio Head

30 11 2009

When I was a little kid, I loved the radio. I would get home after school every afternoon and spend the rest of the day listening to the ancient ‘mono’ radio which was all that most people possessed at the time.  In those days there was no television and only one English language radio station, I believe. On this they aired several slow paced programs, including a hugely popular afternoon show called ‘Housewives Choice’ – the mention of which still makes people smile who remember it. It was hosted by several chatty ladies (who took turns on different days of the week) and one of its more tedious features was the Recipe Corner where long recipes for odd dishes were read out painstakingly with repeats of each ingredient: “Two tablespoonsful of condensed milk.’ (Long pause for scribbling housewives…). Then, “Two tablespoonsful of condensed milk.’ And so on.

The rest of the time they played cheesy retro pop music, by request. The program had a faithful fan base of all ages – elderly couples included, who all wrote in regularly with requests, so everyone got to know each other’s names, their favorite singers and general locations. (“And this one goes out to Eardley and Carmen Perera of Moratuwa…”)

We also had a few programs like Now Music USA and Top of the Pops from the UK that aired in Sri Lanka (or if you were really fanatical like me, you could try and tune in to the rather fuzzy shortwave broadcasts from overseas). But otherwise the youth of Sri Lanka didn’t have much access to the huge revolutions in popular music that had just taken place in the US and across Europe. Instead, we had Jim Reeves, Nana Mouskouri and recipes for milk toffee. But that was all we had so we were happy.

Today, I hardly ever listen to the radio.

I know we now get to choose from several English language broadcast stations and the music one hears is much more contemporary. It comes off the billboard charts and you don’t really have to listen to outdated crooners of your parent’s generation on primetime shows anymore. Instead you get the djs who are surprisingly conservative in their views though obviously young and presumably hip. But there is so much advertising, slapstick and inane chatter that the music seems to be the least important factor and then it seems to come down to the same relentless string of pop hits all day on every station.

And so radio, though it has advanced mightily in terms of technology and reach, seems in some ways still as irrelevant to real life as it was so long ago. What could have been such a powerful tool in the battle against insularity, encouraging progressive thinking and a wider world view has instead been reduced to the lowest form of mass entertainment – a sad victim of advertising revenue and ratings.

Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if we could have more English language radio stations that actually played different sorts of music or featured a variety of shows in the day and late night: rock, jazz, classical, opera, comedy, game shows and talk radio shows…? If we could hear all ages and personalities speak to us with knowledge and a range of opinions, giving us something to think about or a new perspective each day?

I guess our markets are too small to sustain this level of variety or sophistication. But it would be so entertaining for all the old-fashioned radio heads like me.



One response

2 12 2009

English radio in Sri Lanka these days seems to be targeted at teenagers… the slap stick humour is most irritating and the dejays make fun of the American administration with absolute license – much easier and safer than criticizing our own political situation. In the end I think money talks….the radio stations say what their sponsors pay them to say and they toe the party line. no place for individualism and critical thinking…what a sad state we are in…

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