My favorite medium


My poor little radio! Still working, even after (!) it fell off a shelf into a bucket of soapy water last week


By Caitlin Kelly

A writer…Must be print!





I grew up in Canada, where the CBC was huge; we now listen to it on the Internet, and it makes me homesick!

At boarding school, always sharing a room with three or four others, we’d get into radio wars, turning up our little transistors as loud as possible to drown out competing music.

Guess whose radio got confiscated?

As a teenager living in Toronto with my father, the CBC nightly news show, As It Happens, dominated every dinner.

I didn’t own a television in my 20s. In the days before cable and hundreds of streaming services — and with plenty of friends to hang out with — it wasn’t interesting.

So radio has long been my low-cost, portable stalwart companion.

When I was a reporter at the Globe & Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I’d listen to the news before heading to work — and hear my own stories reported again: “rip and read radio” we called it.

One of my favorite memories was arriving in Salluit, Quebec, at the Arctic Circle in December, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette. The tiny village had disliked a previous story of mine (poorly edited!) and no one wanted to speak with me now.

I had 24 hours there and the flight had cost $5,000.

So I went into the particle board shack that was their local radio station and a local man interviewed me in English, then translated my replies into Inuktitut and broadcast them to the village.

It worked, and people at the village hall that evening shared a powerful story with me of government mismanagement. Not the original assignment, but much stronger.

I recently re-watched the terrific The King’s Speech, the 2010 film about King George VI having to give a radio speech despite his stutter.

Then there’s Van Morrison’s classic Caravan, a radio-themed song, off of Moondance.

My favorite Saturday routine is listening to This American Life at 1:00 pm ET, followed by The Moth, on NPR. The first is a set of three related true-life stories, the second story-telling before a live audience by regular (coached) people. I enjoy “appointment radio” — when, of course, everything is now easily listened to by podcasts.

I also enjoy WKCR’s reggae Saturday morning show, followed by Across 110th St., with funk and blues; it’s the radio station for Columbia University.

Then our favorite, TSFJazz, from Paris, which plays a phenomenal range of music, with and without lyrics.

I work alone at home, without kid or pets, so the radio is such a welcome companion, whether music or talk show while television requires me to sit still in one place; I can enjoy the radio lying in bed or the bath or doing some housework at the same time.

In our car, we have Sirius XM, with its enormous array of stations — from Canadian comedy to my current favorite, Channel 163, Chansons, which only plays French music, a mix of country (!), folk, hip-hop, pop. It’s helping me stay fresh with my French vocabulary and introducing me to so many great new performers.

I love this one, Courir, by Gaspé musician Guillaume Arsenault.

Do you listen to or enjoy radio?


20 thoughts on “My favorite medium

  1. I love radio, especially shows with storytelling. One of my favourites is a blend of music and stories: Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap on CBC Radio. Each week, he has a theme and plays songs related to the theme. But before each song, he has an anecdote about the band or the song that is always fun or interesting to hear.

    1. This sounds waaaaaaaaaaay cool, I listened to BTO all through the ’70’s, there was no getting away. I’m with you on the storytelling. There’s a show on NPR called “This American Life” that has tales of every kind, all allegedly true. Another one I really love is “Selected Shorts”, short stories read mostly by actors and actresses,, well curated and always entertaining. I’ll be checking out Bachman’s show this evening. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. The radio is great on the way to places in and around Columbus. It’s actually how I get most of my diet of music from the 1980s. Anywhere further out, and I switch to audio book (currently The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett).

  3. that’s a great mix. like you, I’ve enjoyed listening to the radio since I was a young girl, my transistor was my constant, I still enjoy it. the radio is my companion on my daily commute, when not listening to audio books. I am a fan of our local station, where the dj’s play long strings of music of their selection, they are well versed in the backstories, and they are wildly eclectic in taste. on Sundays, they host an on-air ‘acoustic brunch’ which is always interesting. other than that, I listen to 2 npr stations, both hailing from our local universities, with a dose of jazz, and wonderful shows. I am a podcast fan as well and enjoy learning something from them whenever I listen.

  4. I use an online service called radio garden. It shows a satellite image of the earth, with green dots showing the locations of different stations worldwide. There is no way to get bored with it.
    American commercial radio is turning to plastic, which is a total shame. WKLS, 96ROCK out of Atlanta was a great station. You got the old and the new, Arlo Guthrie and Devo,, Lynyrd Skynyrd and David Bowie. If you want some progressive jazz, you could find it on WRAS (Georgia state) and WREK (Georgia Tech). These stations also played a variety of other styles, WRAS being the source for Punk, New Wave and Alternative sounds and WREK had Stonehenge, three hours of the greatest psychedelic rock EVER. Then there was WBIE, a country station that could have been broadcasting from some dude’s shed. Pure country gold all day and all night. I’m glad I can change the station with a switch on my steering wheel. I have to do it a lot.

  5. I’ve now been in the radio business for over 30 years and I still love it. Always will. No matter how well you plan a board shift, you never know what’s going to happen – what an on-air guest will say, when equipment will fail and you have to fill the dead air with nothing but your voice, when something momentous happens in the world around you and it’s your job to convey that to a sea of unseen listeners. There’s nothing like it. Coincidentally, my husband’s pet project right now is restoring a tabletop radio shaped like a microphone that was given out as a promotional item in 1959 when the current radio station I work for signed on for the first time.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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