June 8th, 2016
I grew up listening to the radio all. the. time. By the time I was nine or ten I was fighting my dad aggressively for “my stations” every time we were in the car. My parents gave me a small portable stereo (it goes to show how old I am that the term for that stereo has now passed out of social acceptability, as really it should have) around that time, and later a bigger better one that lasted me through university. I had it on most of the time I was in my room and though I was not in other ways a riotous kid, I was constantly being told to turn it down. I did own tapes and cds, but I was very very fond of the radio. I was not–and am not–wild about “dj patter” but there were particular shows I liked and would try to tune in for every week. Call-in shows about sex, music documentary shows, I would listen to from start to finish, often the listening being my sole occupation. I may be alone in my generation as a person who would sit quietly doing nothing else other than listening to the radio (well, not quite alone–there were a few shows I know my brother liked too).
When I moved to Montreal with my un-PC stereo, I eventually found another set of stations to listen to, though honestly I never found them as good as the range that was available in the Hamilton/Toronto corridor. I listened to them throughout school and when I moved back to Ontario I switched back to the old ones. But my constant listening fell away gradually as I entered adulthood, even though my parents bought me yet another stereo when I moved to TO, a very good one (note: my father is very passionate both about music and sound quality). Somewhere along the line I lost the ability to listen to music while writing or reading, something that was integral to my younger self–these days I can listen to songs with lyrics only when I’m doing something relatively easy or mindless. Do other people find that a problem in their middle years too?
Of course, the other thing I stopped doing was spending really any time in cars, which used to be prime radio-listening time for me. For years I battled my dad for radio control on the way to band practice, and then later I commuted alone and had total control–or other times, almost as good, I would travel with my brother, whose musical tastes have always aligned very closely with mine. I don’t love driving, but I do love radio, so it balanced out. When you’re from a rural area, almost any drive is a long one, and I listened to a lot of music en route to…everything. But from 2002 to 2011–the first decade of my alleged adulthood–I was almost never in cars for any length of time, and still more rarely alone. I remember being given the occasional ride somewhere in someone’s car and actually saying “whee!” as we went around a sharp bend, the sensation of being in a small vehicle (i.e.., not a bus) was so unusual for me.
When Mark and I moved in together, I got access to his car, and some responsibility for it. Since I’m the only one who can easily drive to work (he works downtown, where really no one should drive) I try to do it once a week or so, not only out of the goodness of my heart to keep the car in driving condition but also because it’s easier if I have to say, carry a cake, or visit someone far away, or be out late, or… Car ownership is insidious–I hate driving but it makes my life so much easier that I do it rather often. So after almost a decade away, there I was with the FM radio dial at my finger tips.
One shock was that so little had changed. My favourite station in my teens was 102.1 The Edge, for all my grunge and alternative favourites–which the station is still playing. In 2011 when I came back to radio whole hog, the situation was particularly alarming, a kind of all-nostalgia format that seemed almost to verge on an oldies station. Horror! There was a revamp a couple years ago, in response to Indie88.1 probably, where the Edge got more current and it’s a lot more fun to listen to now, that Indie88 is actually my new favourite. They play enough current stuff that I feel like I’m in the know, music-wise, and then just when I’m experiencing novelty fatigue–blam, “Blister in the Sun.
Which is all a very long way of saying, I love listening to the radio, and I’m pleased to have it back in my life after such a long absence…though I still haven’t really been able to get into the habit of listening anywhere but the car. I guess we need cars for something.
As you might be able to tell from the above rambling, I’m gearing up to write something bigger (and fictional) about radio-listening, but I can’t do it right now because I’m still in edit-land with the current project. So I just fantasize about the new thing, and ramble here–thanks for reading.