Running in the theatre of dreams

Martin Slabbert

Caster Semenya helped me to remember why I love radio. Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning.

My wife and I spent the long weekend at the small West Coast town of Paternoster. This fisherman’s village-cum-B&B haven experienced one of the worst storms in its history and was plunged into darkness. This meant that by Saturday evening, when Caster was about to run in the 800m final, there was no electricity in town and no TVs.

Nicole and I were having dinner in The Noisy Oyster, a popular restaurant and one of the only venues in town that could serve us dinner. There were about six or seven other couples enjoying a quiet evening, while the storm moved through town. Everyone was very much focused on their own dinner, their own table and their own companion. 

But then the owner walked in, and asked loudly if anyone knew what time Caster was running. “Around 9pm” someone piped up from one corner. “Excellent, I will go fetch my radio,” said the owner.

For the next ten minutes the entire restaurant was transfixed on the little radio hanging in the corner of the room. We needed an extra metal wire to boost the reception. But we sat there listening, as the radio commentator described in vivid clarity how Caster was doing her best for South Africa. How she started poorly, but finished strongly in the last 200m or so. How she crossed the line in second place. The Noisy Oyster erupted in applause as we realised that Caster was taking home the silver medal. 

I turned to the tables next to us and saw everyone smiling. Everyone nodded at each other and recounted the race: “She did it!”, “Yes, how awesome was that?” 

And that is the power of radio. Of course it is nice to watch the race in HD on your new TV set. But listening to it on the radio is like rediscovering a long lost love. Every listener gets to paint his or her own version of the story – how it looked, how much Caster sweated in the finishing strait, how broadly she smiled when she crossed the finish line. 

Can you remember listening to the radio when the moon landing happened and when Nelson Mandela was released from prison? This memory, painted in the theatre of your mind, lasts forever. This is why I fell in love with the power of radio in 1995 and why I am still madly in love with it, to this very day.

Thanks for reminding me, Caster!

Martin Slabbert is a freelance Eyewitness News Anchor