It was a Bush that my grandfather received as a present back in 1958. It was housed in an expensive wooden cabinet with dials for volume, treble and bass, piano keys to switch between the bands, and a needle moving through the four radio waves’ spectra. He gave it an honorary spot in the living room and spent the rest of his life, or so it seemed, listening to the news.
My father was a young man growing up in the hazy ’60s, and when my granddad was not around he cranked up the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as far as the poor speaker could handle. Then it was my generation listening to The Police and pop music. Radios were getting smaller, people were running about with Walkmans — you could carry your passion powered with a battery, and everything broke right after the guarantee ran out; but that Bush kept on going. It wasn’t just a radio, not just a piece of furniture. It was beautiful.
Davey and I went to the same nursery. He tried to steal my teddy and I smashed a toy car straight on his face. They had to call his mother to pick him up midday and we’ve been best friends ever since. We took every opportunity we had listening to the radio and then ran to the record shop to spend our pocket money on the latest hit.
Davey developed a real passion for electronics in his teens and one of his early “big projects” was an FM transmitter capable of reaching about half of the neighbourhood. My grandfather was sitting down for his 4 o’clock tea, tuned to his favourite channel to listen to the news, and suddenly Davey’s high-pitched voice came out of the Radio: “You are listening to YBLR – your better local radio, where we cancel boring news bulletins and play the latest music!” He played Madness and my grandpa coughed out his tea mid-swallow. He looked like he would have a heart attack.
Everybody recognised Davey’s voice. There was no internet back then; people knew who lived in the neighbourhood and stopped each other in the street to have a chat. We had a community in the real sense of the word. Someone could have reported Davey to the authorities and got him into real trouble, but nobody did. He got a few friendly smacks around the ear from the adults and was grounded for a week. Strangely enough, his voice matured and mellowed with the years. I think he would have made a wonderful Radio DJ. As it was, he went to learn electronic engineering, lives around the corner and is still my best friend. In 1999, when the Bush failed for the first time, Davey replaced all the valves and brought it back to life. I think he loved that antique.
In 1995 DAB — Digital Audio Broadcast — burst into our life. It wasn’t adopted in America, but on our side of the pond, countries subscribed to it eagerly. The sound was perfect, clean and unnatural. While my generation grew up with CDs and digital recordings, my father was still hell-bent on vinyl records and FM. When the government announced in 2008 that they would switch off all FM transmitters, my father wasn’t very happy.
I never saw my father cry. When he got upset he just went on raging monologues about the end of days and the meaning of life. He wrote seven letters to his local representative about the doom that is DAB radio and demanded that he would knock down the door of the Prime Minister and bend his arms until he passed a law never to turn off FM transmission. He sent it as a registered mail requiring a signature by the recipient just to make sure it got delivered to the right person. I was doubtful whether it would help, but luckily for my dad he was not the only one raging. Many countryside spots did not have the kind of reception required for DAB radio and when they realised that a large percentage of the population would not be able to listen to DAB, the government delayed the initiative of their own accord.
It took them more than fourteen years to get those dead spots sorted, and in 2022 the Broadcast Authority decided that was it. Someone with either a sense of irony or a soul of a poet set the switch-off date to the 3rd of February at 7 am GMT. My father by then was too old to rage or fight and stood there staring at the Bush with fading eyes. I did not feel the same sadness, but I understood — both had run their course.
We didn’t sleep that night. We stayed up and listened to my dad’s favourite FM station. They orchestrated a cacophony of the FM wave’s history, a song list that was hit and miss, and other bits and bobs that suited the occasion. The last song was “Radio Ga Ga” and the broadcaster had put on a proper gravitas as he wished everyone good morning and good bye. Then it happened: somewhere, someone flicked a switch, and FM was no more.
We sat there, listening to the hiss coming over the waves where our love once blossomed, lost for words, lost in thoughts, lost. My father sighed and I stood up, making my way to switch off the Bush for the last time, and suddenly, with now a rich and mellow wholesomeness, rising from the dead zone of FM afterlife, came the voice of Davey over the waves: “You are listening to YBLR – your better local radio, where we don’t stop the music just because someone said we should!” He played Buddy Holly, and for the first time, I saw my dad shed a tear.
Gal-on Broner is a computer engineer living north of London with his wife and kids. He has been writing for a number of years for his own personal pleasure but only recently started sending stories for publication.