Memo to BG’s Mark Feeney: You Forgot Elvis Costello

The hardreading staff yields to no man in our admiration and respect for Boston Globe critic Mark Feeney. (Full disclosure: Feeney was one of our editors back in the Jurassic Era when we wrote for the Globe’s Focus section.)

Yesterday’s Globe featured Feeney’s fine review of Radio Contact: Tuning in to Politics, Technology, & Culture at the Harvard University Science Center.

They told Marconi wireless was a phony

Harvard exhibit on early radios and broadcasts proves listening is imagining

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 12.25.13 AM

Is there a stranger term than “terrestrial radio”? Oh sure, it distinguishes traditional radio from the satellite kind. But radio, with its plucking of sound from the ether, is the least terrestrial of media. For that same reason, it’s the most magical. That sense of magic is there in the most common early nickname for radio, “the wireless.” No wires is even better than no strings. We can hear an echo in today’s “wireless technology.”

“They told Marconi/ Wireless was a phony.” Ira Gershwin, “They All Laughed”

The magic begins with technology and extends far beyond it — to inside the listener’s head. Radio has a unique capacity to evoke. Seeing is believing, no question. But listening is something better. Listening is imagining.

“I heard the voice of America/ Callin’ on my wavelength/ Tellin’ me to tune in on my radio.” Van Morrison, “Wavelength”

Much of the medium’s magic comes through in “Radio Contact: Tuning in to Politics, Technology, & Culture.”


Feeney peppered his review with other radio-related quotes from a variety of songwriters.

“I got the AM/ (Radio On!)/ Got the car, got the AM/ (Radio On!)/ Got the AM sound, got the/ (Radio On!)/ Got the rockin’ modern neon sound/ (Radio On!)/ I got the car from Massachusetts, got the/ (Radio On!) /I got the power of Massachusetts when it’s late at night/(Radio On!) /I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts.” Jonathan Richman, “Roadrunner”


“We’re having a party/ Dancing to the music/ Played by the DJ/ On the radio.” Sam Cooke, “Having a Party”


 “Despite all the computation/ You could dance to a rock ’n’ roll station/And it was all right.” Lou Reed, “Rock’n’Roll”


“The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know/ May just be passing fancies and in time may go.” Ira Gershwin, “Love Is Here to Stay”



Just one problem: No Elvis Costello, who wrote the ultimate radio anthem.



Roll your own lyrics:

I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial
Doing anything my radio advised
With every one of those late night stations
Playing songs bringing tears to my eyes
I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver
When the switch broke ’cause it’s old
They’re saying things that I can hardly believe
They really think we’re getting out of control

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
I wanna bite that hand so badly
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed
You either shut up or get cut up, they don’t wanna hear about it
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin’ to anaesthetise the way that you feel

Wonderful radio
Marvelous radio
Wonderful radio
Radio, radio


All due respect, Mark.

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