Here’s a few lines from a song I ‘ve been playing around with over the last couple of weeks…
There’s an electric fence around my heart
it goes “tick-tick-tick” in the dark
Picking it up on the AM dial as I go driving
Through the ribcage of this land.
For the past year I’ve been driving a 1978 Ford Cortina with no seatbelts in the back and nothing but a factory-standard 1978 Ford radio for entertainment. The radio receives only AM and crackles out through one small speaker in the dashboard. People have said I should put a CD player and some fancy speakers in it but I say “No, no no!” For one thing, I don’t want to ruin the console by ripping out the factory radio and gouging a bigger hole for a CD player. For another, the radio fits the car; I feel a CD player would destroy the essential ’70s Cortina aesthetic I love so much. But the main reason I don’t want to is that I’ve discovered the little AM radio is one of the best things about the car!
Several times over the last few months I’ve found myself driving late at night, one hand on the wheel and the other on the tuner; in the cold winter air the AM stations come through loud and clear, fighting each other for attention on the dial. Some fade in and out as I weave between giant dark hills, in which case I go looking for something clearer. Other times I just tire of what’s on and to and try my chance on another frequency. You never know what you might find on the AM dial.
There’s racing and religion, small town talkback and big city community radio playing Bollywood hits. Somewhere north of Christchurch there’s rugby league commentary and by the time I get to Palmerston it’s Tammy Wynette and Marty Robbins. The big national stations tend to dominate – Newstalk ZB and National Radio can be picked up most of the way along State Highway 1, but the most entertaining moments are when I wander into the broadcast shadow of one of the little community stations, just as they’re spinning Elvis for the oldies, or a woman named Sharon is digging out country music favourites for her small but regular following. I sort of feel that a journey through the AM dial late at night is like a trip through an alternate New Zealand. In this way the hours and the miles fly past, broken only by the occasional electric fence’s rhythmic signature invading the bandwidth, reminding me of the unseen herds of beasts out there in the dark…
And so the radio stays where it is!