In the sixties, only well-off Moroccan families had TV sets, and broadcast hours and programming were limited. No Peace Corps volunteer whom I knew had a TV. Most listened to the radio. The choice of stations was limited, and depended on where you lived. In the northeast one could get Spain, Algeria, and, where or when reception was good, France. Moroccan radio, in literary Arabic, was too difficult to follow. Before the Internet, shortwave was the only choice.
While going to college, just before Peace Corps, I began to listen to the BBC World Service. I think it was because I had bought an old, wooden console style radio and record player at a garage sale where I was helping out someone with whom I worked at the reserve desk at Baker Library. I was living in a basement dorm room, and, to improve reception, strung a long wire antenna out my window. At the time, I was interested in Canada, and I also listened to the CBC and, once my French was good enough, Radio-Canada.
When I was selected for Peace Corps training, I bought the best shortwave radio I could afford. Shortwave radios were expensive in those days, and the one I purchased, a GE multi-band, wasn’t great at all, but it worked. In Morocco, I hardly used any bands but the shortwave ones. The best English language programming was on the BBC World Service. It broadcast 24 hours a day, and it kept Greenwich Mean Time, which was the time Morocco used. I could generally tune in on one band or another and get decent reception.
In those days, the signature tune for the World Service, played before the news, was Lillibullero, and it was played in more than one arrangement over the time period I listened to BBC. I really had no idea of the origin of the tune. Recently, I searched for more information, and found that the tune dates from 17th-century revolutionary England, and was also played by the Orangemen as a regimental tune, a history that must have given a pause to the Irish who listened to the World Service. For me, Lillibullero meant that the BBC World Service was about to broadcast the news, and the World Service had the best, least biased news. Assassinations and riots were shaking America, there were troubles in Northern Ireland, Rhodesia broke away from Great Britain, and the U.S., in the midst of the Cold War, was mired in Vietnam. Far from the U.S., I depended on Alistair Cooke’s weekly Letter from America to help me understand events such as Kent State, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and, often, comfort my fears that the world was going to hell in a basket.
I also listened to a variety of other BBC programming: quiz shows, pop music, comedy, and short fiction from around the world, just to name a few of the categories. It was entertainment, but also an education. There wasn’t much else. I had a record player, inherited from former volunteers, and an eclectic collection of music: Simon and Garfunkel, some later Beatles, Bob Dylan, the musical Hair, Amal Hayati (Oum Kathoum), Judy Collins, and some 45s of current popular songs. Most of it was collected by Gaylord, who actually attended an Oum Kalthoum concert at the Theatre Mohammed V in Rabat along with a number of other volunteers from our group. I wish I had gone.
The BBC remained the mainstay of my entertainment as well as a major source of the news. Even today I have a great deal of affection for the BBC, which epitomized independence and integrity. If you’ve ever listened to the World Service, you know the signature, but for those of you who have never heard it, you can listen to it at this YouTube link (Lillibullero).
If you don’t recognize the name, Oum Kalthoum, she was the grande dame of Arabic music, an Egyptian whose life was the subject of perpetual interest to her followers, and whose voice made her admirers cry. Amal Hayati is over an hour long, and you may just wish to hear a few minutes from an old TV broadcast to get an idea (Amal Hayati) from this YouTube link.