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.