At five o’clock each Friday afternoon, on BBC Radio 2, Steve Wright closes his 45 minutes of Serious Jockin’ music with a sound familiar to discogoers in the 1970s: feedback. Feedback at the end of the evening was that high pitched tone that came through the speakers as wires were unplugged and equipment was disconnected. I had always imagined that feedback was a phenomenon confined to inexperienced microphone users, who made the mistake of standing in front of the speakers, or to the sort of pub venue that I attended where sound equipment might not have been the best or the newest available and where sudden ear-splitting sounds might have been among the hazards of the evening. The broadcasting of recorded feedback, on the country’s most popular radio station, at a peak moment every week, suggests that such noise was a much more common experience than I had imagined.
Nothing is done by chance on a radio programme to which millions of people are listening, certainly nothing is done by chance by one of the country’s most experienced broadcasters. If Steve Wright signs off with the sound of feedback, it is because it is a sound that will find a resonance with a significant proportion of the audience.
Like the smell of blackcurrant, which some of us drank in pints of lager; or the smell of lime juice, that was added to vodka; or the sight of coloured lights, that were reflected across the ceiling and walls of the hall by one of those multi-faceted mirror balls that were hung from the ceiling; the sound of feedback came from happy evenings. It was a punctuation mark at the end of a gathering where there would have been frequent laughter and occasional romance. It was the sound that announced that the moment to feel beat, that moment of feeling exhausted exaltation (or is it exalted exhaustion?), had come.
In sixth form college discos at pubs and rugby clubs, it would be one o’clock on Friday morning and there would be a need to be at classes in the morning. (Thursday nights was the usual night, venues had more grown up events on Friday and Saturdays). The sound of feedback would tell us that a happy evening had been had by all who heard it, for those who were not happy had gone home, or they were in the toilets being sick (sadly, an experience I once went through).
The momentary sound of feedback just before five o’clock each Friday must recall millions of memories across the country.