A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Hot Radio & Two Pauls (Grant and Luchkow)
Thursday, January 29, 2009

A week ago Pacific Baroque Orchestra violinist Paul Luchkow and CBC Radio's Paul Grant (seen here with CBC's Margaret Gallagher) discussed the sound differences between a modern violin and a baroque violin in my studio. My studio has beautiful acoustics. Luchkow showed the four different violin bows he used and the mechanics of beefing up an 18th century violin for the higher tensioned 19th and 20th century version that we commonly call a modern violin even if the modified (beefed up and reinforced on the inside) happened to be an 18th century Stradivarius, Guarnieri or Amati. The purpose of modifyng those violins was to able to make them louder so they could be heard in the larger concert venues of the 19th century. As Luchkow played Bach and Grant recorded it I closed my eyes and came to a realization obout the immutability of radio. Let me digress so I can explain.

In the latter years of the 40s I remember being in bed with a hot brick in my bed to keep me warm in a Buenos Aires winter. Before I would fade into sleep my parents always made sure the radio was on to LRA Radio del Estado. This was the Argentine equivalent of the CBC but obviously less independent and much more state controlled. It was with LRA that I first heard classical music coming from the Teatro Colón (on the right hand side of the picture above, left which I took in 1965). It was because of it that when my friends asked me what kind of music I liked I would always reply that I liked Colón music. LRA (now called Radio Nacional) also played tango and there were some children's programs. But my favourite program was the Argentine superhero/gaucho El Poncho Negro. The program ran in some other station earlier in the day.

I remember exactly what I was doing an early afternoon of June 2, 1953 (because of the London Buenos Aires difference in time the event must have happened in the morning). I was 10 years old. I was glued to our large radio set in our living room. I heard my mother say, "Alex wash your knees and hands and come for supper." I remember answering, "I cannot I am listening to the coronation of my queen."

Another program I enyoyed was Tarzán - Rey de La Jungla (Tarzan - King of the Jungle) which was sponsored by Toddy which was a chocolate powder product which we children spooned into our milk.

In 1956 I lost interest in radio in Mexico City when my grandmother bought a Zenith television set. It wasn't until the early 60s, when I developed an interest in jazz, that I started playing my radio again. I would tune my radio to short wave and listen to Willis Connover's Jazz Hour in the Voice of America.

Between 1956 and 1961 radio was almost as important as TV in my boarding school, St Edward's High School in Austin. TV had only three channels (or was it two?). The Brothers of the Holy Cross had strict parameters on how much TV we could watch. My favourite program was Have Gun Will Travel. At night when our dorm TV was turned off some of us had new-fangled transistor radios and we could sneak listening to them in bed. In my grade 10 Brother René Lenhard thought that education continued after lights out. He would play a variety of classical music (my favourite was the trombone part of Ravel's Bolero) but also some radio. Brother René must have liked Amos 'n' Andy as it was on every week. During the day the only good radio station was KTBC owned by Lyndon Johnson. This station, in a far more homgoenous time would play Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty and Pat Boone without classifying it.

I watched the Kennedy Nixon TV debate on the TV in our rec room pool hall. We all knew that Kennedy had won. He just looked better.

The Kennedy/Nixon TV debate was used by Marshall McLuhan to explain the concept of cool versus hot media. In our age of high definition TV it might just be obsolete. McLuhan called radio a hot medium. A hot medium is an inclusive medium. A hot medium requires minimal participation. A cool medium, TV, is exclusive and it requires high participation by the viewer how must fill in the blanks. McLuhan's explanation is misunderstood today. He explained that Kennedy's televised victory was due to the fact that he exuded an objective, disinterested, "cool", persona. Nixon was better suited for the hot medium of radio and those who listened to Nixon on the radio though he had won the debate. The misunderstanding comes from the fact that most of us state that TV is a passive activity. Perhaps if McLuhan were alive today he would change his tune.

As I watched (but better still) listened to the two Pauls discuss baroque and modern violins, as I heard Paul Luchkow play slow and fast Bach first with one instrument and then with the other, I saw the light!

Even if radio is dumbed down - Even if radio hires announcers with lisps and bad voices - Even if radio hires announcers who are gramatically challenged - Even if radio has advertising (not that I will ever listen to anything but no-adverising CBC), radio cannot be changed. Radio coming down from a satellite, radio coming through a cable or telephone cable, radio listened to from a computer or downloaded as a podcast, radio, the old-fashioned way, from the airways, it is still radio.

Radio is radio. And radio, sometimes, can be wonderful.


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