Here’s a good game for 2017: a new website that takes the form of a rotating interactive globe, picking up transmissions from all corners of the planet. Well, almost. With 8,000-plus stations featured, it is still under construction, and as yet swaths of Africa, for instance, have only several of the site’s pulsating green dots, which operate as “beacons”, to be clicked on and tuned in to.
Since it takes a few seconds to establish a connection, it’s impossible not to feel a tug of excitement. Where precisely are you? Which town, which village? What might you hear? On New Year’s Day – my finger hovering somewhere in the region of Ibadan in Nigeria – I found that people were listening to Arsenal v Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium and talking about Theo Walcott’s calf injury, just as my boyfriend was doing with his teenage sons in Brentford, Middlesex. I hooted. All seemed absurdly right with the world.
Daily, the site is being added to. Stations are invited to get in touch; sometimes up to 350 a day do so. Greenland still looks suspiciously quiet. Having visited, I can confirm that everybody there listens to the radio pretty much constantly – so there’s work to be done before the site might offer that near-mythical thing: a comprehensively communal soundscape. But even as it stands, it’s compulsive. As Lillehammer in Norway tinkles with earnest piano folk, Radio Immaculée Conception in Benin doggedly transmits Def Leppard. A station in Fort McMurray (Alberta, Canada) endlessly dissects the National Hockey League, and it seems every station in Panama City is playing something languid.
The result of a collaboration between universities in Germany, Denmark and the UK, Radio Garden has an ingenious design. As you browse the world, the interim sound is of crackling static, as though your ear were pressed up against a speaker after the Apocalypse, with you urgently hoping for signs of life. An exploratory feeling overwhelms you (So that’s Togo. And ah, Hiroshima mon amour!). As a rule, we flick through television channels and stick somewhat primly to one or two on the radio. This site flips that convention on its head, until it becomes almost too much. The thrill is inexorable.
This article appears in the 04 Jan 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain