Friday, January 15, 2010

Radio Reads

According to some sources, January 13th is the anniversary of the birth of radio broadcasting, which took shape in 1910 when American Lee DeForest broadcast part of an opera over the airwaves. In the century and a bit since, radio has risen to great heights, and according to some, is beginning to sink toward its demise - but nevertheless has an important place in pop culture.

Canadian literature has a number of great examples of odes to the power of radio. Perhaps its our vast geography and large empty spaces that makes the idea of a voice that travels great distance to reach us seem so romantic. Certainly that's the idea alluded to in Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air - a Giller Prize winning novel of life in the North (Yellowknife to be precise) that revolves around the staff of a radio station in the 1970s, particularly its late night hosts. Similarly romanticizing the idea of late-night radio is Carol Shields' The Republic of Love, which focuses on the romance between one late-night radio host and a women in wintry Winnipeg.

Newfoundland author Michelle Butler Hallett explored a different side of radio in a recent novel Sky Waves. The publisher describes this book as a satirical but "tender exploration of the human need for communication, communion, and love... set against the development of radio in Newfoundland and Labrador, and told in 98 non-linear but interconnected chapters". Although not strictly about radio, another Giller Prize winning novel, Richard B. Wright's 2001 novel Clara Callan also has much for radio fans, in its depiction of a the life of a radio soap star in the 1930s.

It's not just Canadians that have a soft spot for radio in their fiction. Peruvian-American author
Daniel Alarcón examines the power of radio in his novel Lost City Radio, in which the voice of a talk radio host is a point of contact for the citizens of a war torn nation. Mystery writer Max Allen Collins has penned an ode to one of the most infamous moments in American radio history: in The War of the Worlds Murder he wonders if Orson Welles was up to something even more nefarious than creating public panic during his 1938 broadcast ... possibly murder??

If the real history of radio interest you - then Empire of the Air: the men who made radio, may interest you (and focuses on De Forest as well as others key in the development of radio as we have come to know it). If you've got more of a rebellious streak, then a memoir of pirate radio might be more up your alley: 40 Watts from Nowhere: a journey into pirate radio, is the story of one woman's 3 year experience.

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