SUNDAY TRIBUNE: 12 DECEMBER 2004
THIS radio is my pride and joy. It's been through the wars, most likely Korea and Vietnam. This trusty valve veteran has taken more knocks than an Olympic showjumper, but it could still light up the night.
The Pye has provided a home to countless spiders and the odd mouse. It has withstood amateurish running repairs and avaricious antique dealers. Now it's silent and I miss it. The lights have gone out and I have to face the fact they might never come back.
There's something about the sound of an old valve radio. It's like listening to a programme broadcast 50 years old which is only arriving now. An ethery echo with a faint hiss.
But synchronicity shone on me when I stumbled upon the real thing. A dedicated band of radio heads are maintaining a brilliant website at AntiqueRadios.com. There can be found more information on vintage radios than you can shake a transistor at. Loads of photographs of those glorious wooden cabinets and glass tuning dials.
The one part of the site which I haven't moved from since contains a fantastic collection of old, full-length and unadulterated US radio programmes. The Bob Hope Show from April 1947 and Jimmy Durante on Christmas Eve of that same year. The CBS world news from 1942 or Jack Benny's shows from the 1930s. It's amazing to listen, knowing that these programmes were live, in front of a studio audience and there was no such thing as television.
For a time, radio was the only show in town and it knew it. It can be heard in the infectious enthusiasm of the participants. There was only one audience out there and it was sitting at home huddled around a radio set.
Broadcasters first mastered sending sound and such was the success of radio that some of the big players harboured evil thoughts toward television. For them, the big picture did not include a small picture.
As is the way with these things, the radio corporations huffed and puffed but soon adopted television like it was their own.
The subsequent reach and dominance of television ensured that radio was slowly getting tuned out. In the late 1960s, there was a spirited rebellion and the pirates brought a resurgence in turning on and tuning in.
That was only a blip and colour television - followed by video recording - brought radio relapse. The internet and new communication technologies then had the obituary writers chomping at their bits. Radio was dead.
Whether rigor mortis has set in is a matter of taste, but a good proportion of today's radio output requires a tungsten tongue and a strong stomach.
Radio is not dead - it's just resting. As it was with television, big money is pouring into satellite radio, particularly in the US. Two rival stations, XM and Sirius, are now in full up-and-at-em' mode. Between them they have almost 3m subscribers. Not a lot but the money they're spending on signing up new subscriptions is huge.
Sirius has signed Howard Stern on an exclusive five-year contract. He was lured by the absence of censorship but the money made it a no-brainer. Sirius estimates that 1m subscribers are needed to cover Stern's deal, which is about $100m a year.
Rival XM has signed an exclusive 11-year deal with Major League Baseball worth $650m. Both stations are charging $13 to $20 per month and offer hundreds of audio channels available anywhere in America. Sirius has no advertising, which is one of its selling points.
Increase in broadband uptake is also taking radio into new territory. What video recorders did for television, the internet is doing for audio. Being able to choose from a much wider range, when and where it's required is driving innovation.
The BBC, for example, has a 'Listen Again' facility on its main website, where most of its radio programmes can be accessed for up to a week after being broadcast. Recordings of Melvyn Bragg's Radio 4 show In Our Time have recently been put online and can be downloaded to MP3 players.
What happened with text on the internet is now happening with audio and self-publishing is gaining momentum. The easy accessibility and portability of this new kind of radio is called podcasting, named after Apple's player.
Radio has a bright future on the internet and therefore, after much deliberation, I have decided to decommission my vintage valves.
I submit the above photograph for verification.