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About A Week: The Wonderful World Of Radio

Peter Hinchliffe tells of his delight in listening to the radio - which began with the help of a slipper heel.

A slipper heel was my improvised tuning instrument when our ancient radio set misbehaved.

There I’d be, late in the evening, tuned to 208 Radio Luxembourg, listening to the latest hits, when… Yowl! Screech! Hiss!

The music was blotted out by what sounded like a message from an alien spacecraft on the dark side of the Moon.

That’s when the a slipper came into service. Two or three sharp slaps on the side of the Bakelite then, with luck, music was restored.

As Teresa Brewer’s plaintive voice returned to appeal for “Music, music, music’’ I’d restore the slipper to my foot before turning up the volume.

There then ensued a much louder banging from another slipper heel. Dad, trying to sleep upstairs. “Turn that d____d thing off! Some of us have to work tomorrow!.’’

I didn’t turn it off. We teenagers were a rebellious lot in the early 1950s. I turned the sound way down low. So low that I almost had to stick my head inside the set.

What were the fresh new Luxembourg rhythms which young ‘uns were so eager to hear way back then? Well there was Les Paul and Mary Ford, Les with his multi-tracked guitar, soaring through How High the Moon.

Guy Mitchell told us of his Truly, Truly Fair and Johnnie Ray sobbed through the story of The Little White Cloud That Cried.

Johnnie Ray. A not-so-young singer who wore a deaf aid. Today’s heavy-dance-beat teens would find it impossible to believe that a singer who tore standard ballads into soppy emotional shreds could have been the leader of a musical revolution.

But Mr Ray from Oregon, USA, had lasses swooning in the aisles. He certainly did when I went to see him in concert in a Blackpool theatre. The proceedings were so emotionally soggy that there was a likelihood of the fire brigade being called out to pump the building dry.

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, who followed Johnnie’s lead up the rungs of the hit parade ladder some four years later, admitted to being influenced by his pioneering style.

The first British top 20 hit parade appeared on November 14, 1952. The popularity list of songs and tunes was then based on the sales of sheet music, rather than records.

Ballads predominated. Smoochy songs smoothly delivered by Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole. But the sobbing Mr Ray was in the vanguard of the rocking revolution which produced such standard bearers as Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, U2...

In hindsight it was shockingly unfair to beat our old steam radio with a slipper. Transmissions from Radio Luxembourg were notoriously fickle. The new sounds presented by Jack Jackson, the most famous DJ of the time, were often dissolved into static hiss and whine.

I still spend umpteen hours every week listening to music on the radio. We own six radios at last count, including a portable which follows us into the bathroom and garage. And I don’t have to take a slipper to any of them!

Nowadays the choice is Debussy and Dvorak rather than the thump-thump of House or Garage, but I’m still an enthusiastic flag-carrier in the rock revolution which began with a cry-baby.

And while I’m working at the computer – hours and hours every day, putting together this Open Writing web magazine – I listen to classical music via the Net.

I regularly click on to KVOD, Denver, Colorado, USA, a public service radio channel. Twenty-four hours a day of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, and hundreds of other great composers.

Bliss! Sheer bliss!

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