This week I talked to Eamonn Kelly of Smooth Radio about how he got into radio.
He told his story of how as a boy in Dublin, he worked in a record shop and said ‘yes’ when the guy from the pirate radio station next door asked him if he wanted to fill in for a sick colleague. It is the story about life lived by saying ‘yes’, by working hard, and by not worrying too much, too far into the future.
It is also the story of radio and how it is evolved. Our conversation reminded me of the hours in my bedroom as a teenager, with John Peel, Janice Long, Annie Nightingale, and a young Steve Wright. It reminded me of Echo and the Bunnymen, a Flock of Seagulls, Orange Juice, and the Joy Division.
It reminded me of being lonely.
My friends went to parties, but I was too shy to go and so it became a self-defeating circle where the more they went, the more confident they became, the fewer parties I went to the less confident I was. The radio was with me in my room, it was company. It was only when I was talking to a Eamonn that I realise just how intimate that was. We were not the kind of family that had a television in every bedroom, my mum would never have allowed it. So the radio was this opening into a world that was huge and free. Radio Caroline was on the air when I was young and I was aware of their pirate status. There was something so exciting about the fact that these are just normal people talking to the world from a ship in the sea.
It was only about four years ago that a friend introduced me to podcasts, but it was a quick conversion to fandom. Podcasts have been the way that I have learnt during the pandemic, they have kept me inspired and kept me up-to-date with new ideas. They have also been company. Jane Garvey and Fi Glover kept me laughing through the darkest hours this winter lockdown, Sounds True and On Being have been my spiritual guides, Manda Scott and her Accidental Gods introduced me to lots of new ideas about the environment about alternative economies, and Outrage and Optimism makes me laugh whilst informing me about latest developments in the climate crisis.
For me, doing my own podcast has been a way of remaining in contact with other people through the lockdowns. I’m sure in former times, the dark winter months would have been spent around a fire, telling stories, and it seems to me that the radio and podcasts are our modern day equivalent.
Years ago I went high up on the Himalayan plateau between India and Tibet. It is the land surrounded by ice for all but three months of the year. I stayed in a homestay made of mud bricks where the fuel was dried cow pats and chamomile tea was picked freshly from the garden every day. When I asked our young hosts what they did in the winter when the ice and snow were high and the valley was closed to outsiders, they said that they sewed and mended, sang, and told stories around the fire together.
For me, spoken word over the airwaves has been my fireplace gathering and I’m grateful for it.