The Solid State of Radio

Coley, Sam (2023) The Solid State of Radio. In: Media Materialities: Form, Format, and Ephemeral Meaning. Intellect. ISBN 9781789388176

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The ephemerality of radio is one of its defining characteristics. Shingler and Wieringa (1998) memorably describe radio as an invisible medium, while Hilmes (2013) refers to the “ghastly impermanence” of sound. And yet, the artefact of a radio is certainly real enough. This chapter explores the interplay between the physicality of radio and its existence as an intangible medium. It reflects on the attachment that can develop between a listener and their radio, before considering how modern radio manufacturers have sought to exploit this relationship through design.

An emotional connection is often formed between a radio listener and the programming they enjoy. This sense of regard can subsequently inform a listener’s bond with the materiality of radio as an object. Lewis (2000) calls radio a “friend and trusted informant” and, as such, we tend to stick with a reliable model, rather than replace it with the latest design. A radio can also become a totem for other powerful memories, such as past family members, historic events, or perhaps time spent abroad. Whether the radio actually works is largely immaterial. The artefact serves its purpose as a symbolic reminder of the past.

This sense of nostalgia has led many radio manufacturers to intentionally reference the past while offering the latest advances in radio and audio technology. Bluetooth streaming, DAB and smart speaker functionality are disguised within a veneer of “war time radio”, or designs “inspired by the style of the fifties and sixties”. Forty’s (1986) benchmark study identified three distinct stages in radio manufacturing, culminating in an era of technological futurism. This chapter suggests the need for a fourth design stage, which recognises a return to more classical radio forms. While the proliferation of platforms, content and station choice provide an inexhaustible supply of radio via a series of simple swipes or clicks, for many listeners there remains a preference for the human-machine interface of traditional knobs and dials. Unpicking this nostalgia for the medium’s supposed ‘golden age’ and its associated aesthetics, provides insight into the unique bond between the listener and the materiality of the radio.

Item Type: Book Section
12 December 2023Published
Subjects: CAH24 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01-05 - media studies
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > College of English and Media
Depositing User: Gemma Tonks
Date Deposited: 30 May 2024 15:34
Last Modified: 30 May 2024 15:35

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