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One of the oddest aspects of my stay in London has been the development of a growing attachment to the Radio both as entertainment and as an ideal. It became one of the great respites at Kings College Hall, and in subsequent places remained one of my main sources of relaxation and entertainment, displacing even the PC and TV in many instances, especially to listen to in the evenings while doing something else with my mind, or to casually spend time in contemplation of the wall in front of me and the world around it, tuning in and out of the program playing on the radio. Given my ambivalence towards music, you can perhaps understand why I struck out towards speech radio only, staying away from the myriad music stations to find something more to my taste.

The trial that Kings College Hall represented required that I adopt any alternate means of entertainment that was available. A TV was expensive and impractical, the internet meant leaving my sanctuary prison and having to be properly dressed to transverse the ill maintained grass of KCH to reach the Computer Room, a journey I was not inclined to undertake without sufficient reflection. I much preferred to do my computing at either the Maughan Library or to find one of the vast computer rooms at Waterloo, where I could find sufficient anonymity and space to beguile away the swathes of time that were evenings. I learned that I was a morning person, and that I needed evenings to be mine, so that I could slowly unwind from the day that had gone. Evenings could only disparately be the source of entertainment in their own right.

After the end of my first mid-sessional exams, the first exams as an undergraduate that I ever took, though it was, like so many other exams before it, without effect nor consequence and was to be taken into account by no one, least of all me, that I decided to buy a radio on the way home. It is strange what events you can remember vividly.

It was a move borne of the silent desperation for noise, the understanding that while people could not be tolerated in concentrated doses, silence ringing unceasingly in the ear could disconcert and disorient in an even more profound way. The voice in my head was being taxed too harshly by my constant demands on it, the strain had to be alleviated. In effect it was perhaps the recognition that three months of London and KCH had changed much beyond recognition and that old boundaries and assumptions would no longer suffice. A new edifice would have to be raised.

To gravitate as I did towards radio is not that surprising. Practical factors pushed me there, as I mentioned above, but somewhere at the back of my mind I have had great respect for the idea of radio institutionally. It ties well with my fetish for the word, usually written, but spoken word is not demeaned in anyway. The simplicity, the elegance, the ambiguity, all the character of words translates well into the radio. The radio has an elegance in its directness, the voice speaks to you and you hear it. There is no other layers, no body language you should have noticed, no subtle inflection, no hidden agenda that you were expected to discern. It is a communicative medium, without any of the flaws that sometime make human communication so problematic, but equally reduced in its ability to be sophisticated, nuanced and complex. It was precisely what one needs to wind down after a day or to gain enough information and news to make one aware of the coming day and what it held.

It is a beautiful medium, that should spread beyond its currently conceptually confined role of being for people in cars to listen to. I don’t think that its something that is likely to happen in our TV dominated culture, which has adopted whole heartedly the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that every one of the thousand words must be used to convey an image. I do not believe this is the case, and it is this that exposes the elegance of radio.

The reassuring voices of many stations made my stay at KCH bearable, and my time in London more enjoyable and practical. Perhaps this is a London only thing, in which case just as it was adopted there, it will be left behind there, the abysmal quality of Hong Kong radio being a factor that inclines me to not pursue it so vigorously here. Perhaps like many of the changes that London has woven into my existence it will be indelible and more permanent. Only time will tell.


One Comment

    • Dom
    • Posted July 4, 2006 at 2:05 am
    • Permalink

    There was a time when I attempted to turn to the radio during my trips to and from uni. My mp3 player could hold maybe 2 hours worth of songs and I get tired of them quickly. Unfortunately the player seemed only able to pick up 2 stations, none of which were of interest to me. I was stuck with the repeating songs.

    A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it requires your eyes’ attention, which is not good when on the move. If I want to relax I prefer to close my eyes. Watching a video would wear me down even more (as would reading a book!).

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