By Henry McDonald
Sat 16 Apr 2016 at 11:00
Half the length of a 30cm school ruler, coated in black plastic and silver steel, our radio at home had two main functions during the 1970s. Besides the hourly broadcasts of murder and Troubles-related mayhem, my father would twiddle the dial, often in the very late hours, sweeping the needle across the airwaves until he picked up the police messages.
There were the muffled "over-and-out" warnings from voices about a suspect car left in Bedford Street, or reports of a body being found in an entry off the Shankill Road.
In the 1980s, one police message my father captured by luck left the entire family exploding with laughter as an RUC voice warned that: "They are shooting at us from Friendly Street!" No one, I am happy to report, was injured in that incident.
There was, however, another important use for our compact black-and-silver radio, apart from dad also tuning in of an evening to hear reports from Radio Moscow of the Viet Cong entering Saigon or the MPLA winning victories in Angola.
It was solely for me and was a reminder that life was going on elsewhere, far away from the bombings, the murders, the security barriers, the riots and the lockdown of Belfast at night.
Every Monday to Thursday night, just after the pips at 10pm on Radio 1, the first bars of Grinderswitch's Picking The Blues would blare out and then I would escape.
John Peel's radio show was a musical Narnia-wardrobe, a semi-secret audio passageway that took teenagers like me out of the menacing humdrum and into an alternative world, where youth sub-culture was grabbing the headlines and stealing the show.
Peel's programme was the inspiration for buying my first vinyl records - oh, yes, that and a 1977 trip to see friends in Brighton that resulted in one of the greatest pals in my life swiping The Sex Pistols' controversial (and almost universally banned) No 1 God Save The Queen from a record store in Hove, which my friend said was a present from him for me to take back to Belfast.
The radio show and that act of larceny propelled me on a spending spree of 45 singles and 33 albums for the next 20 years.
If God Save the Queen was the first 45 I ever owned, then I recall the first LP I bought was Siouxsie and the Banshee's debut album, The Scream.