Monday, 6 October 2014


Like a loyal ever-present friend, radio has always been there for me. Wherever I’ve lived or worked, radio was there. It makes no difference whether my life is fun and fluffy or going through a mental chicane of dark madness, I can rely on radio.

Sometimes radio is truly all you can rely on. Back in 1994, I’d been in Ireland two years and was living alone in a little house, half way between Slyne Head and Ballyconneely.

Like a prisoner escaped from Devil’s Island, I’d embraced the craic in Galway City with enthusiasm that was matched only by two things: my need to flee from the craic in Galway City, and my profound love of Connemara.

So I was in that house during the great winter storm of 1994, with the electricity gone for hours. The turf burning in the fireplace reflected golden light onto the windows that stretched into curves as it revealed how the hurricane-force winds were bending the glass inwards.

But I was far from anything else, so no low-flying shed door was going to be crashing into my little house.

I was fine.

In fact I was more than fine. A London boy out in the wilds of west Connemara, sitting in my armchair, sipping a whiskey, warm safe and dry.

Listening to the radio: a play on RTE Radio 1. No electricity, but batteries worked fine. Plenty of candles, loads of turf and several inches of Jameson left in the bottle.

It was great. Not the play itself, but having the radio there, the company of human voices offering not only a story to be involved in, but also something to turn a deaf ear to.

Radio offers comfort just by being on, even if you’re not listening. I need and love silence, but know from having lived alone for many years that too much silence is not healthy for slightly loony humans such as myself.

Radio presenters might be upset to know that a lot of us tune into your shows every day to completely ignore you. Sometimes you’re just left on to keep the dog company.

I can’t think of any period of my life in which radio wasn’t a part. As a scabby teenager, after long dusty days working in a warehouse, I raced home so that I could be lying in a steaming hot bath by 6.27 pm, drifting off happily, listening to ‘Just a Minute’ on BBC Radio 4’s comedy half hour.

Working in a garage in Melbourne, my days seem shorter as I made old cars look newer, because the radio was tuned into a dance music station. Back home after work I’d put on the radio and listen to Prime Ministers Question Time in the Australian Parliament.

Nothing reminds you you’re a hell of a long way from Westminster better than a brash Aussie MP bellowing:

“I respectfully request the Honourable Member to put a bloody cork in it!”

Radio has always played an essential role in my routines. Throughout the 1980s my strict Saturday morning ritual involved the cooking and eating of an enormous English breakfast, while listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent.’

Absorbing, utterly fascinating radio. Simple short reports from the hundreds of BBC journalists scattered around the furthest outposts of the planet.

When I lived in California, I listened to the commercial-free world of National Public Radio, NPR, where Americans blend with Canadians and sanity prevails.

But my travelling days are over. I’m here to stay, for better or for worse. I wear a wedding ring on my finger, but there’s another on my soul, for the west of Ireland.

Naturally, upon first arriving here, I listened to the radio to get to know my adopted home. I found Gay Byrne painfully patronising on his morning show, so I used to listen to that nice young Pat Kenny fella, who back then seemed more sincere than this Gaybo, so beloved of the locals.

Each morning I’d learn a little more about Ireland, but my real education came in the afternoon, in the shape of Marian Finucane’s ‘Afternoon Call’.

Long before Jooooe Dufffeee, Marian answered the phone to what seemed, to this greenhorn back in the early 90s, like a succession of small-minded callers who knew precious little of life beyond the townland.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Where was the modern world?

An outraged mother was in tears on air, because her seven year-old son had been told to take a shower with the other boys after football. I’ll never forget how scared I was when she screamed down the phone line:

“I do not send my child to school so that he can have other children looking at his penis. His penis, Marian. His penis.”

‘Is this what they’re really like?’ I wondered, but it was my enormous ignorance of the Irish that was the problem. Yes, there are people in this country who still think like that, but fortunately there are so many more who are wonderful, wise and wickedly dark in the humour.

22 years later I still use the radio to entertain and inform. By tuning into Galway Bay FM and listening to Keith Finnegan’s ‘Galway Talks’ and Vinny Brown’s Arts Show I’m kept up to date with the breadth of life and wealth of talent we have here in the West.

Strangest of all changes, I now listen to Irish radio commentary of matches involving my beloved Chelsea FC. Football on the radio is a unique and evocative experience.

The commentator describes what the weather is like, the atmosphere in the stadium and which side is playing left to right. I lie back on the sofa, close my eyes, visualising the green pitch and the colours of the teams.

Then, if worthy practitioners of their art, the commentators will remove me from this physical plane to that splendid place where radio and our imaginations combine as sponge and fluid.

©Charlie Adley

No comments: