02:51:47 pm on
Monday 22 Jul 2024

Useful New Toy
David Simmonds

It's taken me a while to get used to the fact that FM radio reception here in Wellington can be spotty. But I've adapted, with a vengeance.

My adaptation response was to purchase an 'Internet Radio'. As I understand, it's essentially an FM clock radio with a few extra popsicle sticks inside that are the same as those parts of a computer that capture internet radio.

My fear of computers is palpable. I'm convinced they have buttons with innocent looking labels which mask vicious commands like 'explode', 'freeze machine permanently', and 'mark current file as important so as to evaporate it'. So I don't look to computers for musical enjoyment. Besides, I want to listen to music when I'm doing the dishes. That means the music must come to the kitchen.

I didn't like the idea of leaving my television on just so as to listen to radio stations. And it irritated me to pay a setup fee and then a monthly fee for a digital radio service in order to receive something that I was once listening to for free. The one remaining option was internet radio.

I screwed up my courage, and plunked down a one-time payment of 100 bucks at the big box store after my technophile son in law assured me we had 'Wi-Fi access'. I didn't know what that is, but all that mattered was that he was right.

I invited him to the official plugging in ceremony. I had cleared the decks for the job to take half a day, practised my invective control techniques and locked up all available hammers and mallets. I unpacked the radio, and then unselfishlypasssed it him so he could claim to have been the first to conduct the delicate connection operation. I then did what any seasoned bomb disposal expert would do: hid under the kitchen table.

Some 30 seconds later - apparently, all he had to do was press 'enter, enter, enter '- we were connected to a world of some 11,000 radio stations. That's right, eleven thousand.

My son in law had the remote, so we first connected to a radio station that gave us, in Japanese, the time and weather in his home town of Tokyo; and then to a station in San Francisco that was his favourite when he lived there. But then the remote, and the world, were mine.

I listened to a Tuvan throat singing station, an all-quartets gospel music station, an all-Dylan station, and a spate of bluegrass and folk stations. I was flabbergasted by what I could pick up, clear as a bell.

The radio allow you to search stations by genre and location. So if I wanted to (and I assure you, this is just hypothetical), I could listen to some contemporary urban music from Australia with just a couple of 'scroll, enter, enters'.

Right now, I'm listening to a station called 'TradCan', and hearing a wonderful variety of old folk melodies from Europe. I've never heard this stuff on FM radio before. And I haven't quite finished sampling all the stations yet.

I have, however, experienced a revelation. There are not one but TWO stations that are 'all polka, all the time'. What a weapon to have in your asrsenal!

At the risk of alienating that vast swath of Times readers who are polka fans, let me just note that hundreds of PhD theses have determined scientifically what most people know intuitively. Polka music is, by a clear margin over bagpipe and banjo music, the world's most annoying music.

Just think of the options this opens. Suppose your publisher calls you and says, "Hey, I was thinking of dropping around tonight so that we can shoot the breeze about municial ward boundaries." I can now reply, "What a wonderful idea. Bring some beer and by the way, I'll show you this great new radio station called '24/7 Polka Heaven'." You just know he'll be gone in time for you to have a long bath and still catch Jeopardy.

And consider also how this could be used to push back long lost relatives who just happen to be in The County and would be happy to sleep over if it's not too much trouble; or the neighbours who are gushing to tell you everything they did on their trip to Manitoba. ('Of course, come in and tell us all about Flin Flon: let me just adjust the background music' (to the 'PolkaJammer Network'). I'd give it 10, maybe 15, minutes at most before your guests say: 'well, we have a roast in the oven, we really can't stay'.

I know world radio access is not really a new concept. We've had ham radio sets availale to us for years, and internet radio doesn't do anything an ordinary computer can't do. But I'm having a blast with my internet kitchen radio - because it delivers what it promises, namely music to do dishes by; and because I'm spotting a legitimate secondary use for it.

Maybe I'll just turn on onen of those two channels again and listen to Frankie Bratwurst and his Sizzling Sausages. Say, that's quite a catchy beat.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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