Saturday, September 11, 2010


As a child, I would be woken up every morning by the sounds of the SBS Greek news bulletin music filtering down from the kitchen into my bedroom and gently lodging themselves in my ears. Roused so mellifluously, while eating breakfast, I would listen to Kostas Nikolopoulos delivering the news in a sonorous and precise tone, straining my ear for unknown snippets of vocabulary, such as ειδήσεις and αναλυτικά. Back then, Greece was a land that could only be reached by telephone or cheaply produced eighties movies hired from the local Greek video shop and the words emanating from the radio would conjure up images of a far away realm in which important sounding things took place, such as εκλογές and most mysterious of all, ανασχηματισμοί. The smooth and soothing undertones of Alekos Ntounontoulakis' voice introduced me to a world beyond my relative's kitchens, where other people spoke Greek and organised functions, right here in Australia, while the enthralling Rena Frangioudaki would transport me, with the dulcet semitones of a true virtuoso, in her children's programme to a fantastical Greek fairytale land of myth and magic. Listening to the radio, I not only gained a sense of how the Greek language should properly be spoken, but also, who I was, how I related to others around me, as well as to that distant land, shrouded in obscurity and understood only through hearsay, that I had never seen.
The pre-satellite television need for a direct link with the home country was so extreme that I became, during my university years, a 24 hour Greek radio devotee. This was back in the day when community radio offered painstakingly researched and perfectly presented programs on a diverse range of issues, from cooking and gardening to current affairs, history and traditional culture. The alternative perspective on world and local events to be gleaned from such programs was refreshing and absorbing, so much so that like most of the members of the Greek community, I considered these radio announcers to be giants among pygmies, to be emulated at all costs and I did more than feign interest while present at gossip sessions as to their personal lives, that would inevitably arise at yiortes and barbecues. More seriously, I remember happy hours spent listening to my great-grandmother discuss the historical events she had learned about, while listening to the radio. Apparently, there was a man called Alexandros who ruled over half the world. This was a long time ago, before the Turks came to Ioannina. The Greek radio was also the main source of received knowledge as to the latest hits to emanate from the Greek musical stave, just before this was enveloped by the dark lord Phoebus and his monopolistic orc-hordes of American record labels, and rendered into a westernized parody of itself.
I have been intermittently dabbling with Greek radio for some ten years now. My first appearance on radio was an interview I gave on the conditions prevailing in Northern Epirus, following a visit to the region. My palms were sweaty, my stomach in knots and I took great pains to deliver answers in coherent Greek, bereft of grammatical mistakes or regional accent. Flowing from this, I was invited by a programmer to present a four-part program on the history of Northern Epirus. Over the ensuing weeks, I garnered together a wealth of information that I cut down, trimmed to size and shaped into what I thought would be of benefit to listeners. I also prepared a bibliography, so that I could show the programmer the basis behind the facts that I was going to present, and thus reassure him that everything I would say, would not be spurious. Taking a look at the pile of books I had amassed for his reference, he waved them aside with his hand dismissively, and spitting through the gap in his teeth, remarked: "Yeah, whatever. I'm sure it's all good. Just make sure you get there on time." Surprisingly, given my natural propensity to increase the rate of my spoken delivery to the point of incoherence out of nervousness, the program was quite well received. At its conclusion however, as I was answering phone calls from well-wishers, I answered a call, only to be accosted by an irate middle aged man: "Where the hell did you dig up that kologero? What happened to the soccer? When is it going to play"
My next radio stint was of a more lengthy duration. Over the course of two years, between 2003-4, I hosted a literary program sponsored by the generous and great late Theodoros Tsonis, in which I discussed famous Greek authors, emerging writers and other subjects of a cultural nature. Discussing the authors that influenced and impressed one's life to a vast audience is a great privilege and I took great delight in the search for new information and inspiration each week and to interact with an audience eager to share their own opinions on literary works. It was while presenting that program that I fell into my first community pitfall, comparing a community organization that displaced an unlikely amount of solidarity and internal harmony, with another that was currently in the courts. I believe it was the phrase «σκυλοτρώγωνται στα δικαστήρια» that enraged two listeners who supported one of the warring factions and I received my first formal complaint, upon which time I was compelled to offer apologies on air. From what I am told from time to time, one of the listeners at least, has never forgiven me.
This hiccup notwithstanding, what I found most instructive about my experience was the diverse impression created within my audience about the topics covered, something that has carried over into my next and most current radio gig is as a presenter of the Epirus hour, once weekly on Radio 3XY, ever since 2007. Over the years, of presenting the history, music and traditions of Epirus I have been labeled a fascist, a communist, an atheist, an Orthodox fundamentalist, an agent of PASOK and Nea Dimokratia, and most bizarre of all, after presenting a program about the Jews of Ioannina, a Zionist. On the flipside, community public awareness of the plight of Greeks in Northern Epirus, is on the rise.
Often, during the musical breaks in the program, I am called by lonely elderly people who just want to talk. Their calls may be sparked off by the simplest of things - a song they have not heard since their youth, the description of a historical event they learned about in school or the recitation of a poem. One of the most frequent callers, Barba Panayiotis, resides in a nursing home and is fascinated to learn that I remember him chanting in my local church in his distinctive, nasal voice. He calls, begging to recite a poem, or to relate one of his own experiences that has tenuous links to the topic at hand. It is calls such as these that remind one that for many lonely, incapacitated or isolated, forgotten people in our community, the radio is not only a source of information or entertainment, but the sole window they have left to them, to look out onto the rest of the world. Most of the callers however, are merely enquiring as to when the next match from Greece will be broadcast, or when they can dedicate a song from Roula to Soula, με πολλή αγάπη πάντα.
Diatribe, also offers an opportunity for radio manifestations, most notably on 3ZZZ, where from time to time, the diatribist is asked by Christos Fifis to manifest himself on air in order to discuss the inordinately few articles that present any interest, and quite often to defend or explain the spurious statements contained therein. Over the years, this has caused the diatribist to become cautious and not a little paranoid and it is indeed hard to make oneself heard on the microphone, when one is constantly looking over one's shoulder. Nonetheless, sharing one's thoughts on the radio and learning that these thoughts provoke amuse or inspire others is a unique boon that makes one realise just how much of our community is held together by community media.
Steve Allen may have opined that "radio is the theatre of the mind; television is the theatre of the mindless, but if anyone could eroticize lonely cold evenings in from of the microphone, it is surely is Marilyn Monroe when languidly stating: "It is not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on." Καλή Ακρόαση.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 11 September 2010