THE SUNDAY EDITION

Michael's essay — Why radio remains a vital force in the 21st century

“Radio kills distance. It shrinks time into manageable components. At its core is connection. It puts us in touch with one another. It is personal, it is immediate, it is intimate. It is there to comfort when we hurt or tease and distract when we relax. It is there when we need to know. It is family.”
"Radio kills distance. It shrinks time into manageable components." (Shutterstock/DmitriMaruta)
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Very early one morning this fall, all the power in the house went out. It was off all day.

Bumping around with a flashlight, I found the only radio that worked. A fifty-dollar portable with a couple of AA batteries lightened our ignorance and reassured us that outside all was right in the darkened streets.

Radio can do that. It has an almost luminous power to eviscerate darkness.

And it has been a central part of my life since the dim days of childhood, almost beyond the reach of memory.

In our apartment, every room had its radio. The table radio in the kitchen was always on. The stand-up console in the living room was for family listening, always on for Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada. And the six-o'clock news. 

Before our first television, radio defined the outer limits of my universe.

It was a life preserver, an escape hatch, a third parent, instructing, comforting, entertaining and above all distracting.

(CBC Still Photo Collection)
There was something magical in the phrase "on the air," an evanescent moment which I could lock into my imagination.

A voice is a human gift, says the writer Margaret Atwood, and through the voices of the men and women on the radio, worlds offered themselves to me.

Before budget cuts killed CBC Radio drama, I came, through plays and poetry, to understand the urgent human need for storytelling, and the transcending power of the perfect sentence.

Radio kills distance. It shrinks time into manageable components.

At its core is connection. It puts us in touch with one another. It is personal, it is immediate, it is intimate.

It is there to comfort when we hurt or tease, and distract when we relax. It is there when we need to know.

It is family. It is the community meeting place in the towns and villages of Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the North. It is the newcomer's great companion in the unforgiving city.

Radio, the CBC's kind of radio, cannot be wallpaper. It has to be engaged. Watching television is a passive behaviour.

Radio demands attention and compels involvement.

In the course of broadcasting a thousand radio programs, you pick up a few things.

Michael Enright in studio (Credit: Frank Faulk)
One is the fierce loyalty of the audience. I once had a letter from a minister in Saskatchewan saying he might move his 10 a.m. Sunday service to the parking lot, where many of his congregation were listening to the program in their cars.

We also learned that listeners will gravitate toward the unpredictable. Surprise is premium currency.

Over the years, various executive producers have built the program on three pillars; music, conversation and quality documentaries. Plus weekly scribblings from this corner.

We hope to continue that tradition as we embark on our second millennium.

The Chinese, who have a proverb for everything, say, "The tongue paints what the eyes cannot see."

You have paid for the brushes and the pallet in trust. 

We will, I hope, paint our pictures wisely, on your behalf.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.