Please don’t try to tell me that radio died thirty years ago. I know that whole story. Maybe in your world that’s the way it went. In mine, radio lived until about 24 hours ago.
When I was a kid my grandparents had an old-fashioned wireless that would’ve been right at home alongside one of those candlestick telephones James Stewart used to shout into such classic dialog as, “Where’s that money, you silly stupid old fool?! Where’s that money?!” This radio was as big as a small car and, being possibly the last of its kind (a prototype, one might say), it could have fetched a cool million at any reputable auction house. And if it hadn’t been for my Aunt Helena’s compulsive hoarding of objects not legally hers, I’d be writing these lines from a luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park or Les Champs-Élysées.
Sadly, by the time I was eight this wireless classic no longer worked, having gone through my cousin Luka’s several botched attempts to turn it into the dashboard of Captain Picard’s Starship Enterprise. It sure was a beautiful beast, though. It boasted two enormous and stunningly elegant wooden knobs, along with its own carrying case. Though where exactly one would carry such a bulky thing remained forever unclear. A ludicrous try to take it on a picnic one Sunday afternoon had to be peremptorily abandoned, as none of us knew how to fit a lithium-ion battery into a device apparently designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
The radio’s beauty nevertheless earned it a permanent situation in the dining room, where it sat on the bottom shelf of a small TV stand. Although by then it was little more than a decorative antique, I squandered many hours meant for homework on repeated and very thorough examinations of its gigantic tuning dial. Come to think of it, every component on this radio was made for hands as large as snow shovels. In light of this realization, I finally understand my grandparents’ often misunderstood inability to operate a touch-screen cell phone or that tiny screwdriver sold in eyewear repairing kits.
On the radio’s dial, written in large golden letters against a stylish black background were names of distant cities I thought I would never get to see. London, Paris, Moscow, Luxemburg. These names were magic to me and I imagined that, like the sophisticated lettering of their names, these places were actually built out of or at least wrapped into a fine goldish material, like the inner wrapping of a chocolate bar.
Once, and only briefly, our ancient radio actually came back to life. The back paneling was unscrewed, various wires and cables untangled, mysterious connections were made out of nothing but thin air, and for just an instant the whole front of the old-timer lit up, though only faintly and unsteadily. The dial was tuned to Paris, and a deep male voice sputtered random bits of current news, sounding so garbled, distant, and foreign that I could’ve staked my life on this broadcast coming not from the world of 1988, but from some murky Paris basement the French Resistance might have called home back in 1941. This radio, it turned out, wasn’t just an antiquated, albeit beautifully made gadget no longer properly working. This contraption, in fact, was a time machine.
After that short-lived but magnificent episode that set my imagination on fire, our wireless fell into a deep slumber yet again. This time, when the lights went out and the French voice from 1941 faded finally out, the slumber turned into a coma, which in turn became eternal oblivion. The beautiful radio never woke again. The golden names of cities, once so enchanting to a little kid, paled as time passed and layers of dust settled over my grandparents’ lives. As their names lost the glittering splendor that used to fascinate me, in my mind those glorious cities lost the very essence that made them so alluring and magnetic in the first place; they became as uninteresting and unattractive as the much nearer Zagreb or Ljubljana.
But don’t think that just because this prehistoric apparatus passed into final nothingness over twenty years ago I stopped listening to radio broadcasts from faraway lands. As a great philosopher once said, “Teeth are always in style…” No, wait, that’s not right, is it? As a great philosopher once said, when life hands you lemons, just trade them in for a decent computer.
For almost a decade now I’ve been able to stream live radio from as far away as Los Angeles or Chicago by simply making a few clicks with my Logitech pet mouse. But now there’s somebody out there bent on taking away most of the beautiful things in my life. I don’t know who these avaricious snakes are, but I believe that on the evolutionary scale they rank just below paramecia. These bottom-feeding organisms are easily captured using a single coin of any currency; just drop a coin onto a hard surface and watch these piranhas descend. The sound, smell, and especially the color of money will make their eyes glaze over and shift their salivary glands into third gear.
I can’t open my eyes in the morning without being told by some television bobbing head that I’m blessed to be living in the age of technology, which has made our entire world just a very convenient global village. I’m connected, apparently, to everyone, everywhere, at all times; sometimes, in fact, against my own will. So, why then, can’t I connect to a radio station broadcasting pop music from an American city anymore? Last time I checked, and I have checked, radio was free the world over. You pressed a button, turned a knob, clicked your mouse, and the music streamed free of charge. I have never yet seen a radio with a coin slot. And evidently, the greedy salamanders who are hell-bent on killing free radio, couldn’t figure out how to make one. So instead they made an app. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of apps; I have spoiled countless dinners by eating tons of them. But to a corporate money-grubbing worm an app is the next best thing to a coin slot.
Too bad I can’t download it from my part of the world! That, my dear Ebenezer Scrooge, is how you lose a loyal follower.
How, please tell me, is it possible that my grandparents grew up in a world in which listening to Radio London, Paris, Brussels, or Berlin involved nothing more than turning a knob? Their world, it seems to me, regardless of what we may think today about the superiority of our technology, was far more connected than ours, despite our instant devices and clever apps. What knob do I turn to go back to a world of app-free bliss?
Goodbye, dear Radio, I will miss your ga ga.