My addiction to the ‘wireless’... and why it’s always with me

Here's why John Arnold loves his radio...
My addiction to the ‘wireless’... and why it’s always with me

John Arnold loves listening to his beloved radio. Picture: Stock

THOSE that know me are well aware of my addiction - radio. The radio upstairs is never turned off and if the power went during the night and the bedside radio went off then I’d wake as if in a panic. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against television and absolutely love the TG4 channel but I’ve no problem admitting that I’m addicted to what we called in days gone by ‘the wireless’.

Back in the 1930’s when my father had a wet and dry battery he inserted two wooden pegs into the outside wall of what is now our kitchen. On these was placed a wooden board and on top sat the wireless. That set is long gone and down the years several others have replaced the first one but the original pegs and board remain. We grew up with the sponsored programmes like Waltons, Glen Abbey and others and Eamonn Kelly, Ciarain Mac Mathuna and Donncha O Dulaing were voices I was enthralled by – I was honoured and humbled to have met Eamonn and Donncha in later years. So even though we got a telly in the mid 60’s and The Riordans, Tolka Row, The Virginian, Murphy Agus a Chairde and The Fugitive were beamed into ‘the room’ I never fell out of love with the radio. Perhaps because I have poor eyesight in one eye long hours in front of ‘the box’ always caused me headaches. Then again I found that you could be writing a letter or a poem, reading ‘de paper’ or a book and listening away to the radio. I would never claim to be a great multitasker but with the radio on you could work away with your hands. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as if I was at home every night with the wireless, or indeed the gramophone my father made, no, but I found especially in the winter when the Gaelic games season was quiet I became an avid listener.

When I started farming in 1974 we had an old Fordson Major tractor and back then radios in tractors were unheard of bar you bought a span new top of the range model. About five years later we changed and got a smaller David Brown which had a kind of a canvas cab on it. Being no way technical, electrical or mechanical in any shape or form I enquired if an old car radio could be ‘fitted’ to the tractor - opinions were varied but eventually the job was done and two wire clothes hangers, twisted together, were screwed onto the top of the rollbar on the cab. To say the least reception was patchy and hit and miss. 

If I was working above in the Chapel Field or the High Field I could pick up the dulcet tones of Gay Byrne or Pat Kenny and other RTÉ presenters – I’d be completely conservative in my listening habits and only on certain local sporting occasions would I change the dial from Radio Eireann.

When we changed tractors again about 25 years ago we really went up market with a radio actually pre-fitted. But of course farming doesn’t consist of tractor work all day everyday so when I got a present of a little pocket radio It was like as if I’d won the Lotto - years before the Lotto was started! Some of the early pocket radios were a bit cumbersome - somewhat like the early mobile phones that arrived years later. Initially I’d always have two earphones in, kinda for balance I suppose. Problem of course with that I might be listening-and singing along, with Joe Dolan belting out ‘ Pretty Brown Eyes’ or Dickie heading for ‘ The Candy Store On The Hill’ and you’d be oblivious to everything else. A car might drive in or the shout might come from the kitchen ‘Dinner ready’ and I’d hear nothing. Eventually through trial and error I settled on a grand little set - not much bigger than a box of matches with just one earphone for the left ear - I’m a ciotog so I suppose the left hand, left eye (my good one) and left ear are all tuned in to the same wavelength!

So first thing every morning after the early tay the mobile phone is turned on, put in the trousers pocket, radio put in the shirt breast pocket, earphone in and I’m away for slates for the day. One very small little battery is all it takes and I’d usually get a week or ten days from each battery. Just last week I spent two dry days cutting briars around wire and fencing stakes.

December evenings get dark early so both days I was in the well and orchard fields from about ten until half three with no company save nature and the radio in my ear. You know on days like those you’d see rabbits, birds, an odd fox and experience the exquisite variety of the hedgerow colours. Ah yes so close to nature yet in touch with the wider world also - sheer bliss.

I love news and of course music. On occasions you’d hear something on the radio that would give you ‘a start’ as they say. I remember I was in the Long Field when Joe Duffy interrupted his Liveline programme to tell the nation about the attack on the Twin Towers. 

On that same little radio set I heard of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, surely the most terrible happening of this waning year.

On Monday last, St. Stephen’s Day, we were doing the morning jobs around the farm feeding cows and cattle, cleaning and bedding calves. Mary was driving the tractor and I was ‘on the ground’, a grand crisp sunny morning, the second day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Joe Duffy was on, presenting a two hour programme ‘Legacies’, it’s on annually at year’s end, a show in which Joe and guests including UCC’s Alan Titley remember and reflect on those who have passed away in the last twelve months. I was crossing the haggard with two buckets when Joe said ‘In August we lost Australian singer Judith Durham’ – down went the buckets – I was shocked, even distraught – her death had passed me by and I never heard about it. In the house later I checked that first weekend of August in the Diary by the phone. Yes ‘twas busy - we had five matches, a grandchild’s birthday party, a meeting and a Month’s Mind Mass so probably didn’t listen to much radio that weekend and oft times we’d buy no paper. Ah Judith, beautiful Judith with the voice of an angel. The Seekers - Judith, Keith, Bruce and Athol had a relatively short time together before parting in 1968 but their songs and music will last forever. Could a boy of 11 have a ‘crush’ on an older girl? If so I loved Judith all those years ago.

The Seekers like the Beatles are ever lasting ad like the Fab Four the songs of the Seekers are timeless. I recall the late Colm Keane doing a brilliant RTÉ Radio Documentary on The Seekers years ago. He said they represented fun, hope, happiness and a kind of inn innocence we all admire. Songs like Morningtown Ride, I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, The Carnival Is Over and Georgy Girl will still be played in fifty years time. Judith had a great solo career and when The Seekers came together for 25th and 50th reunion tours it was like they were never apart. Judith suffered a stroke a few years ago but in an interview she recalled that singing helped her to recover. A beautiful person and a stunning voice gone now.

In this the last column for 2022 I must recall the passage of time. This time last year I was looking forward to my 65th birthday in February. I don’t know but there’s something special about 65 and one thing I anticipated was my pension. Now the State Old Age Pension is not awarded until ones 66th birthday but I had a Private Pension. I had paid into this fund for, maybe, twenty-five years or so I was a bit giddy in anticipation of my payback. I’d always been told that such funds can go up and down over the years. In advance of my birthday I rang the Head Office in Dublin and quoted my policy No. , date of Birth etc. The nice girl told me the full details of my pension would be posted to me before the due date. I asked could she tell me on the quiet what I’d be getting. She said strictly speaking she shouldn’t but she had a peek into my file and in a whisper said I would be getting three forty three a week. I was delighted, excited and overjoyed thinking of how I’d spend such unspeakable wealth. True to her word the Big Envelope came the day before my Big Birthday. Anxiously I tore open the envelope to view my details. ‘Dear Mr Arnold….. your managed funds have deteriorated alarmingly in the past five years and you are, from now on, entitled to a Weekly Pension of €3.43’. Surely a mistake, I rang up, ‘But’, says I ‘I thought I was getting €343 weekly?’ There was no mistake, they wanted to send a cheque every week! I said no, send a single cheque in December, before Christmas - which they did earlier this month with 52% deducted for tax!. So friends and readers enjoy the rest of this lovely Christmas Season and have a great New Year in 2023.

Train whistle blowing makes a sleepy noise

Underneath their blankets go all the girls and boys

Rocking rolling riding out along the bay

All bound for Morningtown many miles away

Driver at the engine fireman rings the bell

Sand man swings the lantern to show that all is well

Rocking rolling riding out along the bay

All bound for Morningtown many miles away

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