Foreign radio

From transmitter to receiver

This week, early mornings, a South African broadcaster calls the Australian Open in the background. Lunchtime, it’s the BBC, a program about soccer news that I don’t quite follow, or a panel discussion on what remains of the revolution in Sudan. Sometimes I’ll tune the stereo in the living room to France Inter, to burble French news in the background while I’m working, with the kitchen radio quietly playing a jazz program from FM Haro! from Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan.

Foreign radio is a mental balm, a way to travel during lockdown. When Rachel and I lived in France, we discovered Radio Nova, a French radio station, broadcast from Paris, that plays a never-bad mix of reggae, new wave, and soul. It was the aural wallpaper of the advertising agency where I worked, of smoky dinner parties in small apartments lofted above the capital’s damp streets. And thanks to the internet (try, I’ve been able to stream it ever since. Foreign radio is midnight armchair dreaming. On trying days, it’s a way to cool down the heat of breaking news, spinning through different accents, different views. The world becomes immense again, and my problems small, or at least smaller.

In fact, it wasn’t until we lived in Paris that I discovered KCRW, a radio station from Los Angeles. Specifically, I’d stream Jonathan Gold reviewing restaurants with chef Evan Kleiman on her program “Good Food.” Gold wasn’t yet the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, he was just a guy known for crisscrossing Southern California in search of great meals. But it was the way that he talked about the place, thousands of miles from our little kitchen table in France, that made me want to visit L.A. – and now we live here. Radio has a gravity all its own.

What the what? A weekly newsletter by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful. Rosecrans’s next book, Everything Nowis now available for preorder. Books mentioned are on this Bookshop list.

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