On the second floor of a three-storey building a room’s lights are off, the curtains are drawn open and my old alarm clock radio flashes the time in red LED light: 21:44. The radio loses signal a bit and I suspect it has something to do with the weekend mood outside. People are walking the streets, with music on their ears and booze gushing into their mouths. As a result my radio sounds like it’s playing on its last breath. But I remain its devoted listener, always by its side.
It always reminds me of a particular alarm clock radio that fearlessly woke up a mafia boss and her butt naked lover in a mid-80s American movie.
It’s 21:50 now and I wish my radio’s poor signal was as fictitious as a movie. At ten I intend to listen to a classic rock show. I could listen on my phone but my radio does something special. It adds a retro feeling to the music. Only it can do that. It takes you there in the studio.
And, behold there’s Paul McCartney singing ‘Yesterday’, and there’s the young Mirriam Makeba swaying rhythmically, her body to the beat, before singing into the mic perfect notes from her soul. But tonight it seems like a toneless distortion will drown out the mood. A song will sound like a humming voice suppressed by heavy rains.
But I know I will not switch my radio off. For the past five years I’ve learned to sleep through the bad signal noise, like a partner who’s grown used to her lover’s snoring next to her; it’s a through thick and thin special affair. But sometimes for something special to retain its value it must disappoint you. Whether you’ll consider it special afterwards will be the true test of the value you attached to it.
Here’s an instance with my radio.
During my stressful days of unemployment this radio had snatched an opportunity from me. A guest on the radio show was giving listeners information on learnerships in his company. Hearing this while doing my usual house chores, which are part of the unemployment package, I dropped the broom and rushed to my radio. The guest repeated the contact details. It was on that exact moment when I finally landed next to my radio, pen and paper in hand.
“Oh yes,” said the businessman guest when asked to repeat his contact details. “They can email me on …?” Suddenly my radio lost signal. When it returned the mid-day news reader was already trumpeting the headlines. it was too late. I almost laid a heavy hand on the radio.
But years later the same radio remains the most special item I reach for when I wake up. It beats the smart phone I’m writing this essay on.
At 22:20 the distortion finally clears. The music show has started, and a 80s hit is on: UPTOWN Girl, by Billy Joel. It’s my type of music, I was introduced to by my radio. The show will end at mid night. But I know my radio; it would have long put me to sleep by then.