Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rediscovering radio

I hardly notice the hour long commute any more; the honking speeding drivers who whiz past me as if they are rushing to save lives, the sneaky two-wheelers that sidle by me in the narrowest of spaces  grazing my already bruised car, even the big burly RTC bus that pretends to be a slim sports car as it sweeps its way through the traffic. I owe to this to the treasure made accessible through my smart phone, those podcasts that keep my brain focused on the wealth of intelligent ideas that can still be found amidst the tedium of dealing with stupid or inconsiderate driving and the inexplicable rudeness of city life.

Disclosure: I am one of those US-returnees whose nostalgia for NPR remains undiminished, and while I do enjoy the occasional show on AIR's Rainbow FM or my very own campus radio, Bol Hyderabad, I miss being able to tune in to a local public radio station and listen to smart conversation or good music or stimulating interviews done by an un-gushing radio anchor. I remember listening to Eric Caarle talking about the process of creating those amazing children's books, and JJ Abrams describing how he came upon the idea for a different sort of dead-tree book in an age of digital, having almost serendipitously chanced upon them on a morning radio show.

Back to those podcasts. I've been scouring iTunes for things that I can listen to, and over the past few years have built up a list of favourites. BBC Radio 4 Analysis and Documentaries, Weekends on All Things Considered (which recently has been repackaged into NPR's all in one app, NPROne), the wonderful first season of Serial, and, most recently, a delightful show called Invisibilia on (no points for guessing) NPR, again.

Invisibilia in particular brought back for me the amazing medium radio can be. The show has an interesting and ambitious premise: to understand the invisible forces that shape our lives. This morning I listened to the first episode in the series (and the third I had listened to), titled "The Secret History of Thoughts". For those who might doubt that cinematic quality is inherent in good radio, the show does everything right in the best possible way. Context-establishing ambient sound, segues that are great narrative transitions, voices that are comfortingly everyday yet dramatic in what they other words, great radio.

Queen's prophetic "Radio Ga Ga" reminds us that there is always a time for radio. It keeps us sane in the middle of mad traffic. It comforts us on insomniac nights and lonely mornings. It energises us when we're running that last lap, sweating and out of breath. And it makes us smile with the unexpected song, the happy or thoughtful chatter when we are about to give up on our neighbours on the road.