Radio days in the Caribbean

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean
Alejandra Bronfman
2016, University of North Carolina Press
223 pages, plates, hardback

THIS book “writes wires back into the Caribbean”, as its author Alejandra Bronfman so eloquently informs us in an allusion to the way telegraph wires were erased from Jamaican postcards in order to emphasise its picturesque nature. Bronfman’s detailed and extremely well informed history of radio broadcasting in this sub-region goes much further, however, exploring the many other important cultural and political questions posed by the extension of such media, and even reaching into the supply chains that made the broadcasting revolution possible. Wireless, she points out, was both a tool of imperial occupiers such as the US but also would become a critically important instrument shaping the narratives that would fuel anti-colonial politics and the very self-perceptions of nations in the process of discovering themselves and their place in the world. It is a fascinating tale taking in Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, and highlights among other phenomena the subtle and complicated interaction between radio broadcasting and rapidly changing socio-political cultures. The author writes: “Historical actors from all points on the ideological spectrum came to comprehend electronically transmitted sound as the idiom through which politics could be conducted … As the stakes intensified in anti-Batista struggles in Cuba or in the complex electoral politics of 1950s Haiti, radio demanded the fidelity of certain publics, seeking them out in efforts to consolidate power. Subsequently, the ‘radio wars’ in the wake of the Cuban Revolution and Duvalier’s rise in Haiti amplified political struggles as far as the relentless and ferocious transmissions could reach.” This beautifully written book offers a template for studying the way in which media becomes “more and more invisibly part of everyday life”, which is of great contemporary relevance to understanding a culture now so determined by mediation that we no longer know it is there. – EC