‘Dear Ricky’…the tweet went…..’will there be any 24 Bit files available for download?’
In truth I didn’t even bother replying. But, just in case there is a hifi nut or two reading this: No there won’t be any 24 Bit files available and here’s why:
Music, pop music in particular, but in actual fact nearly all of it, for people of my generation was listened to on fairly ropey sound systems. We listened to a lot of cassettes, thin vinyl on mono record players or cheap hifi and we listened to all our pop radio until the late 80s on Medium Wave. Not only was that pretty thin on quality it was often as not posted missing under bridges, in built-up city centres and remote country areas. A bizarre childhood memory is being in the car driving along the south coast of England while my parents listened in and out of the Wimbledon ladies final. Perhaps it was more exciting because miles would go past when we had no signal and by the time the radio returned Mrs King had won the second set. It was riveting if a little frustrating.
I remember too our first radio plugger almost sobbing to me that we had made a fine stereo record which would never be heard on the wireless because Radio One – the only likely station to play it – was still broadcasting on AM. As if to prove the point he went on to wax lyrical about the Philippines from whence he had recently returned where FM stations were in greater number than Mrs Marcos’ shoe collection.
That is why, in the great scheme of things I’m not as worried about mp3 or streaming quality as some are. We listened on anything and everything to scratched 45’s being spun from fishing boats….I’m not holding out for 24 Bit thanks.
Of course radio did change eventually and we now boast FM or digital and the medium wave is left to the desperate for finding obscure football commentaries on old transistors. But…and here’s the big but…it was Medium Wave and MW only, where we first fell in love with music. I heard all of Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns in sequence one beautiful evening on the John Peel show, I heard Steely Dan’s Doctor Wu on Johnnie Walker’s lunchtime show and on my father’s car radio the first ever listen to Born To Run. (I could even take you to the stretch of road where I heard it). We knew nothing else and expected nothing better. We could turn it up (more crackle but added excitement) or add some bass or treble but it was still the compressed mash that is old radio.
On my visits to Nashville I would often be more on Medium Wave than FM as the Legend (WSM) only broadcasts on the peoples’ frequency. On any given evening I’d trawl the dial to find the signal and drive around to the sound of Eddie Stubbs telling me the greatest stories country music has to offer.
‘That was The Delmore Brothers, always immaculately turned out and always professional,’ he’d intone in that deep southern voice. How I loved to imagine Eddie sitting in his booth; the epitome of the nighthawk. Radio doesn’t get much better, even when the signal’s clearer.
On this week’s Another Country we will celebrate a lot of music you may only have heard on your AM receiver. It’s Part Two of the Country Juke Box where we spin out some country stars favourites and your own suggestions too. We’ll be playing Rascal Flatts, Merle Haggard, Gram & Emmylou and some Kacey Musgraves too. We’ll be broadcasting in glorious stereo, but if you close your eyes you might just be able to imagine some of these records hitting their first audience through the medium wave and for a glorious three minutes making a listener’s life a whole lot better. Listen out too for your own selections as we play out our first ever Listeners Juke Box.
We’ll also give you a reminder of what Eddie Stubbs sounds like. Eddie has retired now and, on my next visit to Music City, I’m going to have to find a new friend on the radio. It won’t be too bad, I’ll just move the dial along until I land somewhere I feel I can stay for a while.
Meanwhile join me this Tuesday evening on whatever wireless you have for Another Country on BBC Radio Scotland. We’re live from five past eight or from anywhere in the world on BBC Sounds any time you like.