Saturday, 3 May 2008

Radio Days

Industrial design in the 1950s had a definite predisposition for Bakelite fascias and rounded corners. If you want to see what I mean, just watch one of those black and white movies of that era with James Stewart or Frank Sinatra listening to the radio or playing the gramophone.

We had a radio like that in our house for a very long time. In fact, for the first seventeen years of my life, I think it was the only source of entertainment we had in the house. Finished in dark brown Bakelite with small, protruding knobs for power on/off, volume, band select, and tuning, with a back panel made out of hardboard, it was a sturdy piece of equipment which travelled with us all over Kerala, suffering the ignominy of several cycles of packing, shifting and unpacking.

These radios used vacuum tubes—so once you turned the set on, it took a while before the tubes heated up and the set started functioning. The more advanced models boasted of a “magic eye” which was a thin phosphor strip inside a narrow glass tube, which glowed brightly when the peak signal tuning point was reached.

In our house, the radio was normally switched on mainly for the Hindi and Malayalam film songs. But on certain momentous occasions I remember the entire family crowding around the radio set and listening with bated breath to news of grave importance. The live telecast of Nehru’s funeral procession was one such occasion. Seven years later, during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, we were to suffer the agonies of war and experience the exhilaration of victory through the humble, old radio set.

As a listener, I stuck mostly to the known and familiar confines of MW (Medium Wave) band and listened to the local transmissions. On days when I felt more adventurous, I hit the SW (Short Wave) highway and would continuously work the tuning knob through the entire spectrum, listening to strange snatches of conversation in unknown languages, strange music and an array of electronic noise that spanned a whole gamut from hisses to giggles to high-pitched static screams.

I believed these sounds were created by alien intelligence trying to contact us from outer space.

I still believe so.

Photo Courtesy: Alois's Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums


Cynic in Wonderland said...

ah ..i suddenly had a flashback to the AIR tune in the mornings!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

I would have seen the Valve Radio at my mom's ancestral house and I guess in some "Barber Shop".
I have heard of times when one needed a license to own a Radio and my house has one of those old licenses.
Radio tuning reminds me of Malayalam transmission from Ceylon, Roopavahini(?)...I still love tuning the radio,though it happens at the press of Search button on the remote.

Once , I could get conversations among Police somewhere in FM.I was thrilled to eavesdrop and hear the Alpha and Roger.

Also, sometimes FM frequencies can fetch you Doordarshan's audio :-)

Rada said...

Cynic: Yes, during those days children used to wake up with the AIR tune playing in the background!

Nikhil: You are right: Those days it was manadatory to hold a Radio licence which was renewed annually for Rs 30/- or something!

I never managed to catch Police transmissions, but used to eavesdrop on conversation between HAM radio enthusiasts!

What fun!

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.