Between The Ears - Obituary Notice (BBC Radio 3)

Some sounds are set into the brain like stains in wood.

A short programme using archive material and the occasional new interview - subtly edited and dropped in for a structure of sorts - gave the memorable impression that time was the thinnest of membranes (7 January, 9.40pm). In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the local radio station WPAQ 740AM broadcasts Gospel music (the small town of Mount Airy has churches and chapels for Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, episcopalians, Lutherans, Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics) and obituaries of local people three times a day ("7.40 am in their complete form; condensed at 1.40pm, repeated in their entirety at 2.40pm and then on Sundays incorporated into the news all day").

For 60 years Mount Airy, whose newspaper only runs two days a week, has tuned in to these obits, keen to catch news of those who have just keeled over. "Here's four new ones," notes an announcer in a moment off air. "Mr Donald Ray Wood. Mrs Norman Ella Hill Cheryl. That's a long name. Mrs Dorothy Snoddy Chandler. Mr Garland Austen Smith. Lots of times you have to be from here to know how to pronounce the names. Snoddy. It's kinda spelt snotty. But you just have to know not."

A pause for the sound of a finger making away across paper, then, "Sometimes they list all who preceeded them in death. That takes a whole while . . ." The finger across the paper was a nice sound, only trumped when someone was recorded speaking in a stopped car - "just look that way 270 degrees, then the other way and you can see the whole loop of the mountains. We're in a horseshoe. Keep rolling your ahs from the right to the left and keep seeing if you can see that beauty what I see . . ." - while the rain pounded its roof and windscreen wipers laboured unreliably. Nobody could have heard that sound without thinking of being in a supermarket car park waiting for a parent to emerge with the forgotten packet of stock cubes.

Sound, like touch, has such a memory and some are set into the brain like stains in wood. The programme went back and forth to obits and preachers and adverts from the Fifties but it all essentially, and magically, felt like now - just people stuck in cars listening to the radio, seeing the bright streaks of copper in the mountains ahead as the sun goes down.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Britain