Wednesday, May 08, 2002

I was browsing The Haddock Directory today and up popped an old relic of popular culture known as "Dial a Disc." Dial 16 on your telephone and listen to a hit record from the top 10.

For me to actually make that call from the house I grew up in was about on a par with taking money out of my mum's purse or siphoning petrol from the petrol tank of my dad's car and decanting it into my aged moped. It was regarded as a waste of money, and therefore my sisters and I were barred from using the telephone to access whatever delights the crusty post office staff decided to play down the telephone line from this endless loop of tinny mediocrity.

I have no idea why this facility existed - Radio One was up and running and pulling in huge audiences. Top of the Pops was just one of the many music programmes on TV. All of us had records and cassette players - Radio Luxembourg filled the gap late at night; even with its accompanying whistle and sound quality: a mixture of undulations, waves and drifts as if an extension of the sea itself, they all sounded a million times better than the screechy tuneless rasp that the post office sent down those old copper wires of theirs.

For those, until now unaware of this rights-of-passage phenomenon, imagine an overheard personal stereo sound "tsst-tsst-tsst" then reduce sound quality by about 50 percent. Then imagine you would like to hear this more intimately through a lump of heavy Bakelite that you would have to press against your ear until cramp pains made you wince. Then, to hear anything at all you would have to screw your eyes shut to transfer all senses to the hearing in an effort to ear-suck (this is the early 1970s) "Hot Love" by T.Rex or "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road" by Elton John from the receiver.

It was a grizzly business and a very unsatisfactory musical experience. But, there was always a fight over the telephone with whoever I happened to be with - not to seize it as a useful weapon with which to knock someone senseless (though it was that). Or to smash the receiver and kill off the offensive, not quiet still born racket that was struggling for life, but to actually listen to these bits and pieces of sound broken up and reconfigured into rock and pop records. Why?

Dial a Disc. A crude forerunner of pay - per - (listen) and sadly a bit of a cultural/historical stinker.