Selena’s radio waves

It is 1978 and he is 10 years old. It’s been some six months since he and his mother moved from England to Ljubljana. As if to bribe him into believing life would be just as good as it was in England, she has bought a new Iskra black and white TV set, a Tosca 20 gramophone, and a Selena portable radio. The TV and the gramophone are Yugoslav made, the Selena is an import from the Soviet Union. 

Products from other socialist countries that one could buy in Yugoslavia would sometimes inspire jokes. If somebody came across as not very intelligent it would be said that they had Russian spark plugs (“ruske svečke”), i.e. they were slow in getting to the point. If something was badly made or unworthy in some way, it was referred to as being Czech (“to me češko”).

The Selena is actually much more advanced than the Roberts they had while they were living in Sheffield. The Roberts was in the kitchen. The Selena is in the boy’s bedroom. It also has more shortwave radio bands and so gives access to many more international radio stations than the Roberts. When his mother thinks he has gone to bed and is sleeping, he switches on the radio set and listens to it secretly. He remembers the first such occasion very clearly. He was scanning all the radio bands and listening to different stations, but quickly moving on if he got bored or the interference was too great. One radio band thus exhausted, he would turn the mechanical knob by the side of Selena to move on to another band. He then tunes into an English voice. It’s the BBC World Service with a popular music programme and they are playing the latest hit. It’s ‘You’re the one that I want’ by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from the film Grease. He is overwhelmed with joy.  He is homesick. He misses his father who has remained in Sheffield, and he misses English, too. He doesn’t speak in it to anybody anymore, except to his father over the phone. But such conversations are sporadic and short. The World Service now stands in for all these voids. He doesn’t tell his mother about finding the World Service.

Radio waves are precisely that: a huge sea one can travel across and discover new destinations with. It is 1981. Fiddling on the Selena’s FM scale, he discovers Radio Študent from Ljubljana. The news commentary is politically independent, but it’s the music that really gets him hooked. It ranges from free jazz to punk. There is a lot more of this kind of independent and alternative music on Radio Študent than on any of the Slovene FM stations or the Western radio stations one can listen to via shortwave or medium wave. He gets into punk and starts taping the it off Radio Študent with a mono portable Grundig tape recorder his step-father has as a journalist. The first tape he makes is that of Discharge songs which will then  be exchanged for a Dead Kennedys tape made by a schoolmate of his who is also into punk. He makes friends with other punks. It’s a home and a community. The music gives him a political education, too.