In the Dark Radio Manchester: You won’t believe your ears

Polly Checkland Harding

At this bi-monthly audio event, you’ll hear radio documentaries with astonishing stories to tell.

A man takes a walk, his newborn baby strapped into the carrier on his front. His wife is nervous about letting him go alone. Very nervous. Out on the street, a passer-by calls out “Jesus, that must be tricky!” The man reads his surroundings from the sounds of the city, more cautious than most new parents would be. His child may not know it yet, but the man is blind.

This true story is just one of a dozen or so that a group of people, sat together in The Castle Hotel’s back performance space, are listening to. Like the blind man, they too are spending time in darkness (although, unlike him, they don’t have to try and change a nappy); In the Dark Radio, Manchester’s bi-monthly audio event is – as the name suggests – a listening experience that happens with the lights out. Over a couple of hours, and for a suggested £3 donation, you can enjoy some of the best radio going. Although, “enjoy” might not always be the right word…

As the name suggests, this is a listening experience that happens with the lights out

Did you know that, for example, we now believe that between 2% and 10% of apparently dead people were buried alive, before science found fail-safe ways of checking? Among the clips on past programmes, which range from a few minutes to maybe fifteen at most, are true stories of triumph, obsession – and ones like this, which are enough to make you demand to have a klaxon with you in the coffin (people actually did: crowbars, bells, escape hatches and bread were once normal requirements for the newly deceased). They’re the kind of clips that have you sitting with your mouth open – before turning to a friend to say, “woah, did you hear that?”

It’s this effect that the night’s organiser, Nija Dalal, cites as the reason people come, time after time. “Radio is so often a thing that people only do when they’re alone – it’s a lonesome thing. At an In The Dark night, we listen together…it’s intimate, but it’s social.” In the Dark Radio Manchester is actually part of a wider collective: In the Dark Radio proper has hosted events in Bristol, Amsterdam and Berlin, as well as setting up two awards for audio documentary (one as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest). Dalal, a radio producer with the BBC, curates the rainy city’s offshoot. “I’m a radio obsessive, I listen to hours and hours of radio from all around the world every week,” she says. “It just made sense to share it with more people, honestly.” And, sure enough, Manchester doesn’t have another event like it.

Where else might you hear about Bushman’s Hole in South Africa, a 9,000-foot submerged cave that fewer people have dived to the bottom of than have been on the moon? “Occasionally, there will be a documentary that is completely arresting and it just changes how I think about radio specifically, and the world in general,” argues Dalal. Each event has its own theme, drawing the clips together – often in lateral, provocative ways (the best way of keeping track is through the event’s Facebook and Twitter feeds). What’s so refreshing about the experience is that it’s a rare chance to rest your over-stimulated, stressed out senses; all that’s really required are your ears. And, with stories of female boxers, fighter pilots and Tupperware parties, this really is an event worth paying attention to.

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