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A Romanian-American broadcaster compares radio in his native country with broadcasting in the U.S.A giving a  comparison of the old communist style radio in Romania, and the contemporary American radio.

 by Andrei Codrescu

I got a serious letter from a young scholar who proposes to compare and contrast Romanian and American radio. Not one to discourage young scholars, I offer the following, based on firsthand knowledge from when I was growing up.

Romanian radio was a wild preserve for folkloric ensembles that turned the nation’s folklore into glue.
Romanian radio was the graveyard where old actors read ponderous poems by dead poets who turned in their graves, thus making the static that often accompanied these recitals.

Romanian radio assured me throughout my whole childhood that the five-year plan was being met in all the important areas, particularly in pig production and fertilizers.

I could see that—just by looking around.
Romanian radio reserved its prime hours for the speeches of the dictator, which were so comforting the whole country fell asleep.

If Romanian radio were a drug it would be Sominex.
We pricked up our ears to Romanian radio only when the folk glue turned into a funeral march; then we knew that the boring leader who put us to sleep with his speeches had died.

When Gheorghiu-Dej, chief of the Communist Party died, everybody woke up for a minute.
He was followed shortly by the next sleeping pill, Nicolae Ceausescu, whose own execution woke everybody up for a second.

The most memorable words ever uttered on Romanian radio were uttered on December 25, 1989, when the Ceausescus were snuffed: “The Antichrist died on Christmas Day.” Those were strong words, but soon after, the next sleeping pill, Ion Iliescu, started droning on.

In the evening, Romanian radio was tuned, throughout my childhood, to BBC, the Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe. People lowered their blinds and turned off their lights in the evening and stuck their ears to the radio.

That’s how we found out about the Beatles. If you walked down any street at night you could see the tiny radio lights informing people about the Beatles. As soon as I found out about the Beatles, I headed for America.

I didn’t know that the Beatles lived in England—a good thing, or I might have ended up there, talking funny.

In America, the Beatles were on the radio.
Commercials were also on the radio.
American radio screamed where Romanian radio had whispered.

American radio screamed so many things I had to turn it off and still it came through the wall of the guy next door.

American radio didn’t hide the news; it broadcast it twenty-four hours a day, which turned the world into glue.

American radio was the place were anybody could tell a bad joke.

American radio was like that in Detroit, but when I got to New York I heard WBAI and that was more like what I was looking for on the streets and in the music joints. It was more like the kind of sound I liked to hear in my life, not just on the radio.
American radio is not really American radio: it’s a thousand kinds of radio. My kind of radio is smart radio with smart music, news that matters, analysis, and great ideas. That’s NPR: they supply all that—music, news, and analysis—and I come up with the great ideas.

In Romania I lived outside the radio because I would have died of boredom if I’d gone inside it, but in America I live inside the radio, like a solid transistor, and entertain myself with all the little chips.

American radios are very big, especially in the cities. Sometimes they are as big as a truck and they can blow out your ears.

American radios can also be very small, hidden in a pencil or in eyeglasses.

Some people have radio coming out of their knees or their heads.

That’s how much radio there is in America.
In Romania now the Beatles are on the radio.

And the commercials.

But Romanian radio is not American radio, even though there is more sound now. The glue goes on. And the bad poetry. And the pig quotas. And Sominex Iliescu.

But there is hope.

This is American-Romanian radio speaking.



This essay was reprinted from The Dog With A Chip In His Neck (St. Martin’s Press) by permission. Andrei Codrescu still listens to the radio from his apartment in New Orleans. He has been a commentator on America’s National Public Radio for over 15 years and is the author of over 30 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. His two most recent books are The Devil Never Speaks & Other Essays (St. Martin’s Press) and Thus Spake The Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader: Vol. 2—Lives of the Poets, Stories, and Translation (Black Sparrow Press).
This article was published in New Renaissance, Vol. 10, No. 1.