In Praise of Radio

The Times Magazine (8.12.2013) ran a piece entitled How to Have Sex on the Radio, featuring those artists who arrange sound effects for radio  – a rare small tribe who break sounds into separate syllables and reassemble an impression from unlikely things like wet tea  towels (as referenced above), melons (soft human tissue) and the tinkling of small light bulbs (ice cubes).  Not a clopping coconut shell in earshot.   

It’s not that I don’t like TV. It’s just that I love radio.  And in keeping with my favourite law of paradox, radio gives you less to work with and thus gives you more.  You can travel mightily between your temples. 

between your temples

While sorting out the contents of Uncle Henry’s blanket box (one of my storage chests) I looked at the pile of tapes and cassettes and it leered back at me.  I couldn’t use them in that form and, technology being what it is, I didn’t think anybody else would either.

I rang Sean who is knowledgeable about these things.  “Where” I asked “can I get old master tapes converted into DVDs?”

“Not sure” he said.  “You need someone with radio equipment.  Let me think about it.”  And by the end of the conversation he had.  “NSA” he said.  Excuse me?

“The National Sound Archive.”  I blushed.  News to me.

“Write to them” he said.  “You’re a broadcaster in good standing.  They will want you to donate the originals but they will make the DVDs for you.”

I looked up the National Sound Archive, still shamefaced and thinking that, if I didn’t know about them, a lot of other people probably didn’t either.  I emailed to introduce myself and outlined what I sought.  A reply came back as fast as one of those zinging change machines that used to be rigged between the counters and the cashiers in old department stores.

Would I ring…?  I rang.

We made an arrangement to meet.

The National Sound Archive is on the lower floor of the British Library, one of the few modern buildings with heart, soul and shape. 


Paul Wilson came to meet me and for once in my life I took everything with me that might be relevant – interviews from campus radio here and in the States when I was working for Forum: various interview of me including about an early memoir and a first novel: interviews

I ran with all sorts of interesting people: a London Transport commercial: two of the long ago programmes with which I began at Capital

Radio and where I worked for 14 years: and so on. I didn’t take so much that I felt I was imposing, nor so little that I risked wasting the curator’s time.  We listed and discussed everything and then I offered a cassette i described as “the bribe” – an interview with the now dead US novelist James Baldwin who was black and gay, a delightful companion and a great writer.  It has never been played.  I recorded it to try and write an interview for a magazine whose editor thought I had a future.

It was beyond my abilities to render that extraordinarily distinctive voice into print.  “But he is enjoying a renaissance now”

I ended “so I thought you might like it.”  It is now on the NSA website.  

And I am the Anna Raeburn Collection.

 James Baldwin, Distinguished Visiting Professor

In spite of the explosion of media of every kind, there are about 600 radio stations, BBC national and local, independent and community, and radio audience figures are still very impressive. 

Only the BBC has any formal requirement to archive so that the image of yesterday’s papers wrapping today’s fish and chips is carried over into the ephemera of sound. Heaven knows, the standard of some of it is so truly awful that you wouldn’t want to listen to it, let alone keep it for the ages, but a local radio station covering the building of an important bridge and how that effects communications and surrounding, or the impact of a change in industry on local employment, the surrounding community and its life – that’s oral history.

Not (to be) sneered at.




One response to “In Praise of Radio

  1. Fantastic, Anna that the National Sound Archive is preserving your work. The commercial/independent radio sector in the UK is under-documented and under-rated. Its content/style/adverts/voices will tell future historians a lot about the 1970’s/1980’s.
    I bought your autobiography on Amazon Marketplace – mint condition, not robbed from a public library and with the labels removed ( as so many old hardbacks are!). I will be reading it over Christmas.

Leave a Reply to Richard Lysons Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.