Fond memories of those wireless knobs

By Larry Kirwan

I’ve always loved radio.

I can still recall the old cloth-covered Siemens that my grandfather set up next to my bed back in Wexford. The tubes glowed in the dark and cast a ghostly blue light on the fading wallpaper as voices and music drifted in from all over Europe.

I got over television and its force-fed images round about the time I figured that the wondrous equine, Mr. Ed, wasn’t really talking.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Radio, on the other hand, was transformative. Hearing “Like a Rolling Stone” and Bob Dylan’s taunting defiance changed my life.

Likewise, Van Morrison’s depiction of Madam George conjured an erotic aura of Presbyterian Belfast that we in the South had never imagined.

It wasn’t just music. Each of the Soviet bloc countries broadcast English hours on state radio. Propaganda it might have been yet it definitely broadened adolescent horizons.

But the real prize was AFN (American Forces Network).

On clear nights this station beamed laser-like from West Germany to Wexford and all of a sudden you’d have James Browne, Otis Redding, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran proclaiming the real truth about what it meant to be alive.

And so it was like a dream come true to get my own three-hour radio show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio twelve years ago.

As with many good things in life it came out of the blue.

I was up at Sirius doing an interview with Meg Griffin for a newly released Black 47 CD when one of the executives overheard my accent.

Turned out they needed such a blas to host a Celtic show!

Nor was anyone exactly sure what a Celtic show might be – including me.

But one was needed for the following weekend, so into the studio I went - with Meg to teach me the technical side.

Sirius had around a hundred vaguely themed “Celtic songs” in their vaults and I initially brought roughly the same from my own collection.

At first I stuck to the music from the eight Celtic nations: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, The Isle of Man, The Duchy of Cornwall, Brittany in France, and Galicia and Asturias in Spain.

Meg suggested I follow the old FM Radio strategy of a set containing three songs followed by a chat about the music, the musicians, or the price of turnips should nothing else spring to mind.

Unbeknownst to me, Sirius had been banging the gong about this new Celtic experiment so I had an audience from the git-go - and a fairly informed one at that - from all over the U.S. and Canada.

One of the few Sirius stipulations was that your show be not parochial or too New Yawk based – North America is a big bloody place, they reasoned, and since the introduction of the SiriusXM App the world is your oyster.

SiriusXM (the two satellite channels merged 9 years ago) is personality driven and you’re encouraged to air your views.

Hardly a problem, since it would be difficult to ignore the historical and political roots of Celtic music.

Besides, there’s a great hunger for heritage and a visceral need to connect with the past – something I learned on my trips around the continent with Black 47.

In an increasing age of disconnection and banal perfection, there’s also a growing taste for a human voice that improvises, riffs, and even falls flat on its face.

The show is about the song rather than the singer.

Perhaps that’s self-preservation for with Howard Stern down the hall and 150 other channels competing for the almost 32 million subscribers you’d better have interesting and compelling content.

But it’s more than that. Most radio is so programmed nowadays it’s important that the unknown with a dream back in one of the eight Celtic nations, or adrift in the Diaspora, has the same shot as U2, Christy Moore, The Dropkick Murphys, or other stars in the Celtic firmament.

Yeah, it’s a long way from a cloth covered old Siemens wireless back in Wexford to the 36th Floor SiriusXM studios in Midtown Manhattan, but what a thrill to be a weaver of my own radio dreams.

Celtic Crush can be heard on The Loft, Channel 30, SiriusXM Satellite Radio Sundays 9 a.m. ET, Tuesdays 9 p.m. ET, Wednesday Midnight ET or On Demand.