Sunday, 27 May 2012

On the Radio . . . Uh Oh

There's a commercial from my childhood that I remember quite vividly. It showed a black family huddled together outside a shack in a township watching a television. Although we didn't see what was on the screen, the Zulu show they were watching was clearly very dramatic based on the tones of voices of the actors, as well as the tears slowly streaming down the face of the family matriarch, gripped by the story unfolding before her. The camera slowly panned around the television to show that what the family was "watching" was in fact not television, but a battery operated radio, housed inside what used to be  a TV set. (The commercial was probably for the SABC - the South African Broadcasting Corporation).

When I was a kid in the RSA in the eighties, we only had about four channels on TV. I remember the schedule of the main channel quite well. In the morning, the image was this:

Programming started in the afternoon. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays programming was in English (Pumpkin Patch, at 4 PM, followed by Degrassi Junior High, the Bold and the Beautiful, then the News, then either MacGyver,  the A-Team, Airwolf or Magnum PI). Anyway, on Tuesdays and Thursdays programming was in Afrikaans. After 8 P.M. there were comedies like The Golden Girls that were dubbed on T.V. in Afrikaans, but available on the radio in English. I had a little pair of radio headphones, and while my parents thought I was sleeping, I'd pull out my headphones and - like the family in the commercial - "watch TV".  

My dad also used to tell me how he used to listen to the radio in secret. Of course, for him - a Jew in the Ukraine listening to "Golos Israelya*" -  the stakes were much higher. He listened to the radio in order to get a sense of what was really going on in the world. I interviewed him recently about the role radio played in his childhood, and will post the translation of the conversation soon.

In any case, my trip down radio memory lane came after reading Shulem Deen's exquisitely written short story/memoir: The Sound of Sin where he describes the unraveling of his frum world that began - as his wife predicted it would - with the purchase of a radio. The beauty of this story is that it first reels in the reader through voyeuristic temptation: an insider look into a marriage in a foreign insular society and culture - one so deeply suspicious of the outside world that it intentionally sabotages any accidental contact with it. But then, Deen  guides the reader through time and his old world via the use of references to technology that make the foreign world not only familiar, but nostalgic as well. The depictions of communication technology in the story - from the radio to DVD etc., provide landmarks with which almost any reader can connect - regardless of how different their experience. In short - read it!

I would love to hear your radio-related nostalgia in the comments. Also - for those who are or have been on the inside of communities such as the one Deen describes:  With the recent hoopla re: ASIFA, it seems that "the velt's" focus has shifted to the internet as the villain du jour from the outside world. Do you think this will soften the perceived threat of the radio within highly insular frum communities?

Not really related, but just for fun:
The song that was in my head while contemplating this post (no, it's not Video Killed the Radio Star . . though that is stuck now!):

If you ever wonder what your Yours Truly anonymous blogger CL looks like -  imagine a short Regina Spektor  with a stubbier nose. We're probably from the same shtetl at one point. 

*Voice of Israel


  1. I'd like to begin by recommending the Woody Allen film "Radio Days", narrated by Allen, but Allen is played by a young Seth Green. One scene I vividly remember was an obnoxious next door neighbor (played by an uncredited Larry David) who would not shut the radio off on Yom Kippur. So the father went over to yell at the neighbor. Turns out the neighbor was a Communist, and he actually convinced the father to start reading up on the subject. Now, the father was sitting at the table and wouldn't shut up about the proletariat taking over the means of production!

    When I was a kid, the radio was still around (somewhat). I am a child of the 80s. For me, it was eMpTyVee that was banned. Of course, no major loss for me now, as it's all crappy reality shows (16 and Pregnant, Jersey Shore, etc.) but back when it was music videos, everyone who was cool was watching it. So yes, I'm going to be trite to say that I was sneaking in my basement and watching music videos the way your father was sneaking the radio to listen to "Golos Israelya". My Golus was not of an anti-Semitic government banning me from being Jewish, but from an overprotective mother forcing a brand of Judaism down my throat and banning me from being a normal American boy. And my Z100 and eMpTyVee were my golden tickets out of that shtetl. Of course, my shtetl was the Modern Orthodox community of Fair Lawn, NJ, which is nothing compared to Booroi Puhrk, Moonsey, Villiamsboig, New Skver, Moonroi, KJ, etc.

    I'm recalling slightly a joke by Jakob Smirnov on what TV was like in Communist Russia. Something along the lines of there being 2 channels only: the first was government propaganda, and the second was a KGB agent telling you to turn back to the first channel.

    The threat of the radio softened? No sooner than they stop banning the Fox Trot, Turkey Trot, Two-step, Charleston, 23-skidoo, Wachoosee, etc. I'm sure they still ban those.

    1. Thanks so much for the comments Fish - will check out Radio Days!

      >No sooner than they stop banning the Fox Trot, Turkey Trot, Two-step, Charleston, 23-skidoo, Wachoosee, etc. I'm sure they still ban those.

      lol - never thought of that!

  2. I have often wondered why people like us are so transfixed on the lifestyles of the Frum and their communities. I have a theory that most frum looking people are not really at all..frum that is with the exception of my adult children who chose the lifestyle they seem to derive so much fulfillment from. I truly regret that it will never be possible to have an honest and open relationship with my children and theirs. So as a guy in the second half of his 7th decade I will continue to cointinue to be a part of the OJ world. I wear on my head what they do on theirs sometimes, I eat their types of food and show up in shul JFK (just for kiddush) which is not really so bad at all. My problem or my issue is the same as it is for the rest of us that I can only look at the world through a "frum lense" but I guess that goes for the HIP HOP world and most any type of ethnic or cultural group

    1. Thank you for your comments Anon

      >I truly regret that it will never be possible to have an honest and open relationship with my children and theirs.

      An interesting statement - can you elaborate?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...