Saturday, 12 March 2011

Radio Killed the Video Star

As Taffy once said, I love my radio. From Viking FM and Radio Humberside’s Top Town Quiz during Sunday dinner at my Grandma's to Simon Mayo’s Breakfast Show and Sunday nights taping the weekly Top 40; through Mark and Lard’s graveyard and Mary Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock to my own late night ineptitude on Sydney community radio and finally to The Ghost and the Lime Champions on 3RRR I’ve always preferred pottering around with the radio in the background than sticking the telly on.

The history of the radio’s development is long and complicated, with no end of players, patents and claims about who invented what and who nicked which bit from whom. Whether you’re a Marconi man or a Fessenden kinda girl (I’m probably in the latter camp, given he undertook the first music-and-talking type radio broadcast) the truth is there has been a dial-full of folks responsible for spreading the joys of the wireless around the world. Although they are unlikely to be added to this illustrious list by anyone else, I’d like to offer a tip of the hat to the people behind TuneIn Radio for playing their part in revolutionising radio for me all over again.

For anyone with an i-Phone (seemingly every single person on my morning train) or i-Pad (my friend Mark plus one man with a beard on my train) TuneIn Radio is one of many available apps that lets you listen to radio on your Steve-Jobs-endorsed portable device. The others might be good too but to be honest, I don’t care as TuneIn already offers more than I thought possible with its basic premise – the ability to listen to any radio station with a digital stream, in the world, live.

Combine this with an i-Pod dock and you have crystal clear as-if-you-are-there live radio from every continent, country, county, state, borough and city in the world there in your kitchen, toilet or train. And, yes, the world. There’s even a station in Antarctica. You can see it with the handy menu that lets you zoom in and out like Google Maps, showing all the radio stations you might know and plenty you don’t.

I suspect there’s an element of homesick relief about TuneIn that magnifies its importance in my life. I’ve often said that if I could get a decent newspaper, a pint of bitter and access to BBC Radio 6 my expat experience would be a lot easier. TuneIn delivers one third of that and much more besides for the foreigner abroad.

As I sat feeling sorry for myself with my broken arm last Christmas I was surprisingly cheered by the sound of Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 interviewing the larger than life Archbishop of York. I never listened to Evans when he was on in the mid-nineties every day, but the sound of him making gravy over breakfast whilst I ate my tea brought me a whole lot closer to my folks back home and more Christmassy than I'd felt in years. Even better, when I texted my mum to tell her, she was listening to it too.

In between mainlining 6 Music (Shaun, Jo, Tom, Lauren, Jarvis, Huey, Marc, thank you...) I’ve already revisited all the stations from my youth, as well as some from my travels, both dodgy (ah FUN Radio, still terrible...) and higher quality (no more Pet Sounds but it’s still nice to hear Tom Dunne’s voice on Newstalk). When you have instant access to the voices of people you’ve grown up with, or even just people who have clearly grown up a similar way to you (I’m looking at you Shaun Keaveny) the power of radio to make the world smaller really does hit home.

I hope you’ll forgive me for carrying on like some hanky-on-head wearing ex-pat. In some ways it was inevitable that given this kind of opportunity I would head home in the first instance. If it helps we’ve also been taking random shots at stations the world over, losing hours in incomprehensible languages and music we don’t know. The curious thing is how much radio from Japan to Germany, Morocco to Mexico sounds the same. And how popular the Black Eyed Peas are...

Anyway, thank you TuneIn Radio folks. We may never meet, but you’ve already done me a service that Marconi et al would be proud of. And in the interests of redressing my UK imbalances, I’d encourage anyone outside of Australia to spend some time with 3RRR here in Melbourne. Even with access to every digital dial in the world, some things are worth staying home for.

No comments: