Thursday, 8 February 2018


It soon proved that my mother’s wireless set survived unscathed my many manipulations. Hence, the rules were further relaxed. This meant that I was now allowed ‘on the Medium Wave’. The increasingly appealing LW and KW, which stood for Long Wave and Short Wave, remained off-limits however. No reason was given, but I think my mother feared that engaging too many of the push buttons on the wireless box might upset some delicate balance in the innards of the set.

On the new stomping grounds my attention was soon drawn by the children’s programmes in Dutch broadcast from Hilversum in The Netherlands. To me they were slightly more appealing than any of the Flemish programmes on our own Belgian NIR, which stood for quite a mouth filling ‘Nationaal Instituut voor de Radio-omroep’.

As I grew a bit older I became captivated by so-called ‘Hoorspelen’. In English they were known as radio plays. Through them the wireless became my very own Tardis. The actors -with only their voices- magically transported me to another place, a different time and new sensations. With no visual component these audio dramas depended on dialogue, music and sound effects to help the listener imagine the story. As a result they were often referred to as “the theatre of the mind”. Radio drama became very popular before television ruined everything. That’s why even today I often only listen to Eastenders whilst doing some work on the computer. I like to think that my imagined version of the goings-on in Albert Square somehow has the edge. 

Looking back, the effectiveness of radio drama was probably best born out by a Halloween radio special broadcast by CBS in the States. In 1938 Orson Welles proved so good at communicating with his listeners and creating the theatre of the mind, that he drove a nation into panic (if the papers of the day are to be believed, that is). In the radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds’, he presented H.G. Wells’ novel as a simulated news broadcast. People believed it and ran into the streets with wet towels as make­shift gas masks to protect against the poison gas the radio said was headed to­wards them. Many had no doubt that civili­zation was laid to ruin by invading Martians and were convinced it was the end of the world. One particular farmer who, when hearing about the menacing Martian war machines with their tenticular arms and stilt-like metallic legs, is said to have gone out into his field armed to the teeth, ready to do battle with the alien monsters. In the darkness the poor man mistook his neighbour’s water tower for one of the gigantic Martian invaders, blowing several large holes in it with his shotgun.

In the seventies we had a copy of the broadcast as performed by the Mercury Theatre in our music library on board Radio North Sea. In fact on September 17, 1973, ‘Daffy’ Don Allen put the ‘War of the Worlds’ double LP on the air in it’s entirety on RNI. The album, lasting for over an hour, had just been released in Europe. While it was playing, the dj’s on the Mebo apparently sat listening in the darkened studio. Graham Gill was reported to have chewed off all of his fingernails during the performance. Unfortunately I wasn't on board at the time. In connection with the ‘War of the Worlds’ many people have remarked that when they approach the towers of Red Sands Fort -the former Maunsell Sea Fort home of Radio 390 in the Thames Estuary- they are immediately reminded of these woeful Wellsian war machines.

More of AJ's radio- and other anecdotes. 

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