When I was young there was no television. This was difficult to explain to my children. “Oh no Dad,” they would say, “There was always TV.” They can’t understand what people did at night in that incomprehensible time when lives were not illuminated by television. But I remember. My world at night was filled with the magic sounds of radio.
I would lie in bed in the darkness, watching the dancing glows of the filaments in my bedside radio. I imagined sometimes that there were little people encased in those tubes and their voices were those I heard. Now in the modern daylight of television it is hard to explain the reality of radio in that long-lost time. I rode with the old English and Hindi songs. The pictures I drew in my mind may have been more real than the ever-changing, evanescent images from the ubiquitous cathode-ray tubes of today.
I wanted to create this miracle of radio myself. I built crystal radios with “cat whiskers” that touched delicately on little cubes of quartz and listened acutely through earphones as I moved a steel pointer across a coil wound on a cardboard tube. Sadly, I never heard a peep. So I studied a book entitled Boys’ First Book of Radio and dog-eared a precious copy of the Amateur Radio Handbook, and tried building my own, but to no avail. The magic of radio lives with me today, but now I see it through the eyes of a television.
As I look at the clear blue sky and think of all the radio waves crossing that seemingly empty space. If those waves had visible color, the sky would be as bright as a laser light show. Somewhere out there, 100 light-years distant, that first pulse is still traveling among the stars. Its creator, Marconi, must have believed that the heavens had been opened to unlimited communication. In the late 20th century, however, I came to realize that the precious spectrum that had seemed free and infinite in Marconi’s day had been sold in tiny slivers for billions of dollars.
Today, we again use Marconi’s word, “wireless,” to describe cellular radio. There has been a renaissance in thinking about the capabilities of that empty sky. Thus the radio has opened new gates in the field of science and entertainment. I believe that even today the radio has people glued to their sets thanks to radios incorporated in cell phones. With time the face of radio has changed and more fast and entertaining channels have begun. So whenever I listen to a Radio Mirchi or Vividh Bharati, I feel happy that an old friend is here to stay.