I grew up in the time of the Wireless. But it had a different meaning to ‘wireless’ now, although, in one respect it served a similar function to its contemporary; it kept people connected.
The wireless sat on the mantlepiece over the fireplace and was turned on and off by my mother. She liked the wireless. It was her companion, an antidote to her loneliness. When my father came inside to eat, the first thing he would say was, ‘turn that bloody thing off.’ He didn’t like the wireless. My mother would turn it off, lingering as the broadcast faded into silence. When he returned to his work, my mother turned the wireless back on. There were times when he deigned to listen to it; the weather and news, if only to argue with the content. On the whole he remained disparaging and resented my mother’s relationship with it.
I discovered the joy of the wireless with the children’s programme, Kindergarten of the Air. The theme song Girls and boys come out to play, signified the beginning of an event solely for my pleasure. I recall skipping around the house, in time to the music and voice of the presenter. There was no playgroup or preschool where I lived, and in a time before we had a television, this was the only children’s entertainment outside what my family could offer. For this reason alone, I loved the wireless.
When my wayward, teenage cousin was sent to ‘stay’ with our family in the country, she embraced the wireless. I watched in awe as she danced the ‘go go’ to the blare of Beatles music. She called it a radio, but it wasn’t enough to keep her with us. She ran away.
We may have lived in the bush in Australia, but in 1969 all the kids in my school were crowded into the largest school room in front of a borrowed television to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Technology connected us to the world … and beyond. The following year our household got its own television.
My father, for all his bluster about the ‘rubbish’ that was on it, discovered great joy in watching cartoons and westerns. The whole family gathered religiously after tea to watch the Australian soapie, Bellbird. However the wireless remained my mother’s best friend because she could cook, clean and iron in it’s company, whereas the television was in the ‘other’ room and required you to watch it.
At around the same time we ‘got the phone on.’ Our number was 54 and all calls were manually put through the telephone exchange. Trunk calls (those to numbers outside the local area), could be made, (assuming you knew people outside your locality), and every three minutes the operator interrupted to ask if you wanted to extend the call for another three minutes. As to whether the operators listened in to the calls, well that depended on whether there was anything interesting for them to listen to!
Around three years later, we got a record player. My mother had a few classical music records she had ordered from Reader’s Digest and decided to invest in more, now that she had a machine to play them on. As my sisters and I grew older we saved up for our favourite records. The record player was our preferred technology for listening to music, because unlike radio and television, we could choose what music to play on it.
When my mother returned to paid work in the early 1970’s she bought herself a transistor, a portable radio that she could take with her anywhere. Like most young teenagers we embraced the nickname ‘tranny,’ but until the day they died both my parents called it a wireless.
The years passed and audio-visual and communication technology improved. Records evolved into cassettes, then CDs, television became coloured and videos and DVDs were born. Within a generation personal computers and mobile phones became standard appliances in most households. This technology integrated itself so purposefully into our lives that we are dependent on it. Banking, bill-paying, correspondence, communication, study, leisure; we aren’t sure what to do if we aren’t connected, feeling bereft, abandoned or at best, inconvenienced without it. And yet for all that internet technology offers, there are times when I find myself in the company of the ‘wireless’ and that is enough.