Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Wireless memories

The radio in our house was a Barker, a wooden box with bakelite knobs and valves that glowed. The panel on the right would be gently back-lit, with stations such as Hilversum, Luxembourg, Droitwich, Athlone and many others on short, medium and long waves. After switching on the radio, you'd have to wait several seconds for the valves to warm up.

As I recall, the radio came from Barkers' department store on High Street Kensington. My parents lived in an attic flat on Sinclair Road in West Kensington before buying the house on Croft Gardens. My mother would often use the phrase "kupiliƛmy u Barkersa" relating to the provenance of things around our house ("we bought it at Barkers").

Mostly, the radio would be tuned to either the BBC's Light Programme (my mother listening to Housewife's Choice or Music While You Work), the Home Service or the Third Programme (for those occasions when my father spotted some piece of classical music he wanted to hear). Saturday mornings would be Children's Favourites; and on Sundays, the Light Programme would broadcast The Billy Cotton Band Show, followed by The Clitheroe Kid, followed by Family Favourites.

But twiddling with the tuner knob would bring other, more exotic radio stations to life. Moscow's Radio Mayak, or Polish Radio, each with their characteristic station ident tune played on xylophone (Midnight in Moscow; Warszawianka).

Between stations, the tuner would summon forth an unearthly rising and falling tone, accompanied by crackle and distortion, that to me epitomised the romance of the airwaves

My parents' radio went out in a blaze of glory; the picture above is a still from the video for The Bluebell's smash hit Young at Heart, four weeks at No. 1 in the UK singles charts, you'll see the radio itself (and indeed myself for a second or two, then aged 26). By then, the radio was long broken (the tuner knob's fallen off and the tuner indicator's at a funny angle). The old Barker radio fell into disuse at around the same time as the Light Programme gave way to modern and with-it BBC Radios 1 and 2, the Third Programme by Radio 3 and the Home Service by Radio 4, in 1967. The Barker's replacement was a modern hi-fi with separate record player, tuner and amplifier.


polandian said...

whoaaaa… back it up for a second there – you're in the Young at Heart video? Guy reading paper with Scargill headline?

Michael Dembinski said...

Seated behind Clare Grogan (1min 52 secs). I also took the stills photos, did the location recce (Canvey Island, Essex) before the shoot and found the Bedford Dormobile van featured in the video (it came from Greenford, Middlesex). But that's the 1980s, a different story altogether.