Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Digital radio

I'm fundamentally opposed to digital radio. Let me explain:

The idea of analogue radio is that the frequency and amplitude of sound waves at the source can be transmitted over great distances by mapping them to the frequency and amplitude of electromagnetic waves, and thence re-created as sound waves again at their destination. As such, analogue radio exploits isomorphisms between sound waves and radio waves. Digital radio, in contrast, turns continuous sound waves into binary digits, encodes those binary digits into electromagnetic waves, and then decodes and re-creates the sound waves at their destination. This improves the quality of the sound but destroys the feel of radio.

The essence of radio lies in the hiss. I want to listen to the radio late at night, with the lights off, my head on the pillow, and feel that there's something magic in the way my little radio catches the hidden, delicate, fleeting signal from the omnipresent background of electromagnetic noise. I want to feel the distance over which the signal has travelled, the variations in the volume and quality of the signal as the meteorological conditions fluctuate. I want to manually tune my radio, not have the radio tune itself. Digital radio, like radio over the internet, just feels like a voice in my own head. I want to sense how many different voices and channels there are out there, competing for space in the electromagnetic spectrum. And I want to hear the background hiss, the hiss that was present before humanity evolved, and the hiss that will prevail after humanity has passed away. I want to hear the voices climbing out of the stochastic abyss.

2 comments:

elberry said...

Splendidly evocative.

Gordon McCabe said...

Cheers Mr Berry. And 'splendid' is a much under-used superlative these days.