Radio: A theatre for the blind – Part Six


By Dr Michelina Andreucci

LOOKING back, the decade of the 1970s held many promises; two great conflicts come to an end; the Vietnam War and the Zimbabwean war of liberation.
Women’s rights were strengthened and though colour TV was still in its infancy, it increased the popularity of Association Football (Soccer), bringing the game to unprecedented heights, even today in Zimbabwe.
Red and yellow cards in football were introduced as were the first electronic lock access cards.
Michael Jackson released his debut solo album Off the Wall; Sony introduced the ‘Walkman’ while the computer video game ‘Space Invaders’ was released.
While NASA launched ‘Mariner 10’, the first space craft to study Mercury and the Space Station ‘Skylab’, Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft.
Other great technological innovations resulting from the simple radio during the 1970s included the introduction by Sony of the Betamax video tape system.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed the Apple Computer Company.
Intel began introducing the home computers, the first low-cost microprocessor and other integrated circuits; all this courtesy of the work done by the early pioneers through the discovery of electro-magnetism for the development of radio waves and the radio.
Other important life-changing innovations that took place during the 1970s were: Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), the Floppy Disk, E-Mail and Barcodes; the Inkjet Printer, MRI Scanners, Laser Printers and the personal computer.
Genetic engineering and the ‘test tube baby’ through In Vitro Fertilisation were all developed during this enlightened and productive decade, brought about by the radio!
In Zimbabwe at the time, many were listening to Martin Locke playing the Lyons Maid Hits of the Week every Saturday morning.
Each week carried a jackpot.
If the top-10 hits of the week were predicted correctly, the winner would win an amount of money and free ice cream for anyone who predicted the top three correctly.
At 2 pm on Saturdays, we listened to the enjoyable radio game show, The Eyegene Jackpot, on our Philips radiogram.
More importantly, we were listening to Chimurenga songs as they motivated us to fight for our rights and our land.
We enjoyed listening to the music of bands such as the Limpopo Jazz Band, OK Success, Vedettes, Machipisa Band, Black and White Band and the Coloured Arcadia Rhythm Lads.
The new Zairean bands brought us rhumba and South African influenced simanje-manje music.
For humour we had Mhuri yaMukadota, serialised on radio, before it became a TV comedy programme.
With the invention of the microwave, technology was soon adopted to manufacture many other home devices and kitchen appliances cheaply.
This gave the housewife more leisure time to enjoy listening to the radio.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, new technology arrived in the form of direct broadcasting by satellite.
For the first time in the history of radio, listeners who were once invisible, private and passive become visible participants in the network and are audible, thanks to the social networking.
In 1987 the US Navy experimented with satellite navigation, culminating in the launch of the Global Positioning System (GPS); which by the early 2000s became so compact it became the ‘gift for the man with everything’ and now a ‘standard’ in vehicles.
By the late 1990s, digital transmission was being applied to radio broadcasting, by combining radios with computers and connecting them via satellites to the internet.
Eventually, radio would convert from analogue signals, which are subject to interference and fade, to digital broadcasting.
Digital signals can produce high quality sound unhampered by interference or fading.
Digital radios can be programmed for specific stations; category of music and/or news, among others. Radios will soon have mini-computers built in to process sounds in numerical patterns (digits) rather than the current analogue wave form.
This will allow listeners to programme their radios for favourite radio stations, music type, stock quotes, traffic information and much more.
With digital coding, some of the major international radio broadcasters like BBC, VOA, Radio Deutsche Welle and others have formed the Digital Radio Mondiale; a consortium successfully developed through the new means of shortwave transmission.
Although the internet developed rapidly since the start of the 21st Century, radio remains dominant, mainly in rural areas.
Its potential growth was retarded mainly by the low level of development of telephone systems, in the sub-Sahara region, excluding South Africa.
Together with the lounge chairs and occasional tables, the radio has been a part of the furniture in our homes and grew to be part of our everyday lives.
From houses to cars to bicycles and even in our ears as we move about, mobile information through the radio is at our command.
Undoubtedly, many more changes are still coming; tuning into our radios as we do today may no longer be possible as we get more and more Wi-Fi connected and geography will no longer be restrictive.
Listeners will be able to access radio stations on the web and across the country.
Through the decades, many scientists and radio enthusiasts contributed to its development, which still continues today.
Many patents were registered, lost, exchanged and sold.
Some of these intrepid men are recognised today, while others remain lost in the silence of obscurity.
Despite digital media, however, the invention of the simple radio is still with us.
Its staying power is certain to survive even the onslaught of cyber.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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