‘When We Only Had Radio Luxembourg and Buying a Bulb Was Men’s Work’

drawing 1950s cabinet radioRecently, I felt compelled to add some variety to the sounds escaping the windows and boot of my car when either of these is opened. The neighbours at least will have observed that I’ve had the same cd in the deck for several months and so, clearly, something has to be done about it. Time then to burn a special edition so I crank up the media player, load a blank and start dragging and dropping tracks onto the slate.  But what’s this? No drive?  How can that be?  It was there yesterday, it ripped yesterday, it was acknowledged as a drive yesterday, for all I know Bill Gates himself approved its presence and tickled it under the chin yesterday, but today – zilch!

I check out Help and Support; there are reams of FAQs but nothing that addresses the recapture of errant CD drives. Online then; it’s the drivers maybe.  Nope.  I shout at Media Player but it doesn’t respond, other than to confirm gently, as to a rather dim child, that it needs a CD drive through which to effect the burning of a cd. I resort to tea because that usually shifts something, but not on this occasion. It would appear not even a large mug of Lapsang Souchong is going to persuade it that the drives with which it was wholly acquainted a few short hours ago are still within reach if it would only look.  It’s time for the Shut Down and Restart approach – that’ll teach it. And lo, after a great deal of packing away of programmes, counting its fingers and toes, and then setting out its pens, pencils and blotting paper again, a full set of drives appears on the map with not a squeak of an apology for absence.  That’s half an hour of my life I won’t get back although the tea is always worth having and, under duress, an obligatory biscuit. But most importantly, I am fully equipped in relatively short order with the means to put together a collection of tracks that should last me a good year if I keep the car windows closed[1].

Back in the day, this would have been nothing short of magic and people would have brought you toads in the hope of taking home a bit of Bert Weedon. In the 1960s, the only access to music that wasn’t Joe Loss and his Big Band came via the BBC Light Programme on Sundays when we got two hours of Pick of the Pops to be recorded but never replayed on a reel-to-reel in strict silence with absolutely no visits to the loo in case the flush became forever embedded in Mike Sarne’s Come Outside.

Alternatively, there was Radio Luxembourg which transmitted in the evenings but, with your parents generally monopolising the one piece of equipment in the house, could only be heard at youth clubs.  These palaces of entertainment; offering table tennis and possibly a quick snog if anyone suitable turned up, often boasted a wooden cabinet the size of Oswestry out of which scratchy bursts of melody would be coughed as the frequency wafted in and out of range.  These devices would also heat up during the course of the evening, usually as the strength of the signal improved, so that they would suddenly expire with a kind of pfff and an alarming spark as accompaniment.  The trick was to turn them off mid-evening in the hope that, when switched back on again later, you would have made it up the chart past Pat Boone and arrived at a bit of Elvis before the bulb went.

Yes, bulb. Lord knows what bulbs were doing in those things but they were clearly of the incendiary type rather than the sort whereby, if you hang about long enough, you get daffodils.  If they blew, arcane rituals were activated that usually involved a visit to a small, unlit retail outlet up a side street and housing a bloke in a brown warehouse coat.  Only men were inducted into these rituals although, in the absence of sons, daughters may be granted access, a socially risky strategy that necessitated some introductory butch language on the part of the Dad so as to establish proper credibility with the shop owner. It was a lengthy ritual. By the time the dead bulb had been inspected by everyone present, a grubby dog-eared book of serial numbers consulted and the order finally placed to be collected in – well, let’s see, it’ll be coming from Hull tha knows – Elvis had fallen off the toilet and the Beatles had invented colour.

[1] This has been superseded by iThings that plug into your car’s radio and could keep you entertained from Brighton to Bangalore with tracks you no longer recognise because you only played them once before downloading them from iTunes.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.


2 thoughts on “‘When We Only Had Radio Luxembourg and Buying a Bulb Was Men’s Work’

  1. I had forgotten about Radio Luxembourg, I had a tranny when I was 13 and listened to it under the covers with an earpiece. Of course even the word ‘tranny’ has a different meaning today. Great post thanks for the memories 😀

    1. I remember getting one of those – it was red plastic and I had to build it myself! Tiny thing, awful sound, absolutely liberating. Glad you enjoyed the trip back in time 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.