Construir a paz nas mentes dos homens e das mulheres

Radio: a future for sound

Radio, which recently celebrated its centenary, is widely undervalued. People tend to forget how far it helped to shape ways of thinking in the twentieth century and to minimize the role it is earmarked to play in the twenty-first.

The radio age ushered in a perception of the world in global terms, something that now seems self-evident but which drastically changed parish-pump mentalities and linked the destinies of villages and city districts alike to the unfolding events of our turbulent century. It was over the airwaves that news of revolutions, coups d'état and wars came to the illiterate populations of the Nile and Ganges deltas, and that Indian, African and Caribbean music was widely heard in Paris and London for the first time. Ubiquitous, quick to purvey news based on a diversity of sources, radio brought a new area of experience to all countries and every social class. It would be hard to over-emphasize the important part the new medium played in the spread of democratic pluralism.

All well and good, one might say. Let's bury radio under a mass of valedictory flowers and leave it at that. Radio blazed the trail for television and tomorrow's information superhighways. It has a glorious past but no future.

This is not true. Just as the globalization of financial and technological flows will not dissolve national identities and local cultures, so television will not replace books or kill radio. It is a fact that old habits are going by the board, and familiar landmarks are disappearing. Various kinds of retrogression are in the air. But the further our antennae extend and the further afield we look, the greater our need for roots.

In this issue, Hervé Bourges notes that radio will continue to be indispensable "to cover news in each world region, in each country, in real time" and to enable young people to keep their finger on the "musical pulse" of their choice. In short, it will go on providing people with the freedom to make their own considered personal choices from an increasingly wide range of possibilities.

Paradoxically, one advantage of radio is that it is not accompanied by the image. The chief quality of the TV image that it seems so realistic is actually its main flaw because it inhibits our imagination and our capacity to stand back and think. We shall always need sound without image as part of our right to interpret for ourselves, as we tune in to the morning news, the meaning of world events.

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February 1997