Family Memories

It stood almost three feet tall, half as wide, and the same in depth. The case was made of oak, with the finest intricate wooden inlays. There was a characteristic smell of burning dust on radio valves even when switched off. When switched on there was silence for at least thirty seconds whilst the valves heated up and then it sprang to life.

First there was a strange hissing noise, followed by a familiar crackle-crackle, then distant voices. The voices were never crystal clear to start with, but a large round dial on the front allowed me to fiddle until I could hear them, and even see them in my mind’s eye.

Two brown Bakelite switches allowed me to change between shortwave and medium wave. No FM yet.

The wealthy neighbour had handed down his pilot radio to me as a birthday gift and this magnificent machine became my entertainment centre, my source of news and above all; my go-to place for the decadent music of the times.

My sister and I would closet ourselves in the bedroom especially on Sunday evenings. Why all the secrecy? We were brought up in an era of massive change in music. Parents mostly hated it and teenagers adored it. ‘Turn that rubbish off!’ often echoed down the passageway.

Sunday nights. We would wait patiently ‘till it was time for LM Radio, Hits of the Week and the gravelly voice of the presenter, David Davies, who finished every Sunday evening with:

Now this is David Davies bidding you adios, wishing you all the best of luck – and to you, and to you, and especially to you, vaya con Dios.’

 My first recall was of Buddy Holly singing, All of my love, all of my kissin’. The bespectacled Buddy made one get up and start bopping straight away.

‘The Stones? They haven’t washed for weeks!’ My dad would say they were the ultimate evil band.

‘Jailhouse Rock’ from our beloved Elvis, with his flaming hair and steely penetrating eyes, was an absolute No-No.

We somehow managed to evade parental censure of this weekly ritual. Later my dad would say that they were well aware about the Sunday night shenanigans.

By winding electrical wire exactly thirty metres long around the house and connecting it to the pilot, I could even go further. From many miles away, I could now tune into BBC and Voice of America – listen to forbidden voices and news, away from the heavily-censored puppet radios of the South African Government.

In 1962 I was able to follow the Cuban Crisis. To hear the clear and defiant voice of Kennedy warning Khrushchev and the Russians to turn their ships back or face war, still sticks in my memory. A year later while listening to the radio, the music was suddenly stopped. ‘Dit-dit-dit-da-da-da,’ rang out. John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The world held its breath once again.

I was, as so often happened, glued to my beloved pilot, listening to every word on the BBC.