Sunday, September 5, 2010

Marconi Calling

For most of my sentence, the prisoners’ greatest comfort was a decent radio. A distraction, a source of news and entertainment, a portal away from the grey walls.

Not that we were allowed any old radio. It could only receive AM Medium Wave, not FM. And it couldn't incorporate a transformer, allowing it to be run from the mains.

Choosing a radio was a serious matter. Quality of reception and sound was important, it being a companion for every waking hour. And running costs. A few batteries here and there for you rich buggers outside are a financial irrelevance, but in prison they are not!

Long term prisoners often aspired to obtain a Roberts Rambler. Not for the Royal Warrant, but because the sound quality was wonderful and - crucially - it would run for months on a single PP9 battery.

This led, as all things in prison do, to a tiny tributary in the river of exchange. Guys with big radios that ran on lots of batteries, or PP9's, passed their "dead" batteries on to people with smaller radios. Needing less power, these little radios would happily run for a while… and so on.

And I bet you didn't realise that you could extract a few hours more juice by heating a battery in a jug of boiling water? Or by giving it a roughing up?

The poorest (or meanest!) bloke would have a tiny radio. Connected to this by long lengths of wire may be dozens of cast-off batteries from other people. I've seen a dozen PP9's wired to power a 3-volt radio.

The introduction of in-cell electricity and FM changed the whole culture around radios. The permitting of TVs has nearly, but not totally, killed it.


  1. Speaking of electricity, the Isle of Wight Prison, formerly known as Parkhust, Albany, and Camp Hill, have declared they are going to host a 120m wind-turbine on grounds adjacent to the old Camp Hill complex.

    Hopefully us Islanders will tell them to go take a run and jump, as we did with the plans to erect the bloody things on our downs. But it might be a good idea for prisoners to join in the debate, as these giant wind-turbines can literally drive some people to despair, especially if they have to try and sleep in the vicinity of deep sub-audible noise, the kind you feel rather than hear.

    The use of a prison site is rather cynical: they failed on public land, so now they try on 'government land'. Plus, nobody cares about prisoners, so let's dump on them.

  2. Surely green and renewable energy is a better idea than using up finite resources?

    The initial inconveniences would be surmountable, surely.

    Its more of a scandal that the only factory in this country making wind turbines, Vestas was shut down, or massively reduced its production capacity; thus ensuring that renewable energy became harder to achieve, not to mention the job losses that that caused.

  3. Now I wouldn't say no to a nice little fast breeder reactor.


  4. Video killed the radio star, indeed. Well, Almost.