Warning: Spoilers for We Know The Devil (Date Nighto Games, 2015). Content warnings for injury, religion, mental health, trans stuff.
We recently played We Know The Devil (WKTD), a Visual Novel about a trio of teenagers at a camp where they learn to fight the devil. It's a story about faith, sexuality, friends, mental health, and growing up. The world of WKTD works on the conceit that god and the devil can be heard on the radio, and the girls are meant to refute the devil through that medium. I played the game for the first time just over a week ago and I had a lot of feelings about the use of radio in a work that deals in the subjects it does.
Radio is a medium that is everywhere and nowhere. Through ingenuity and a few cheap physical components, you can experience it; bathe in its signal and its glorious noise. Even if you dont choose to channel radio into a receiving device, it nevertheless affects you - even when you aren't listening, the waves flow around and through you, an invisible, inaudble, intangible symphony.
109.8 FM (1098 is "I Am The Lord Your God" in Gematria) is where the trio find god, a clear and strong signal among the roiling static of the airwaves. Growing up, it was always a wonder to twist the dial of a radio through the spectrum and to feel the tuning lock onto a carrier signal. When they hold hands and tune their receiver to a known familiar channel to hear the clear, strong all-knowing voice, it felt comfortably familiar (though 109.8 is just out of reach of where the FM band sits in the US, 87.8 - 107.9, giving it an uncanny feeling of the dial being cranked too far to bear, much like god is meant to be above and beyond us).
The fact that God is on a frequency that is Known and Defined and Solid and the Devil is in the spaces-between-things feels important too - there's a long history of "pirate" community radio stations sitting in the gaps between larger commercial frequencies, shifting location frequency to guard against triangulation from FCC Enforcement Agents. After Clear Channel cornered the radio station market in the 90s, filling programming blocks with homogenous content across large swathes of the US, pirate radio stations became truly important as the only ones really serving as local media in many areas, giving news that noone else did and catering to what people really wanted to hear - not just fulfilling underwriting requests.
We often name our channels on IM servers heterodyning after the superheterodyne receiver because sometimes when you combine frequencies you get something Much Stronger because of how waves work. WKTD heterodynes lierally and metaphorically in incredibly beautiful ways - the characters wrap their radio arials around each other, place incense in inductors, touch and tweak and add wire to their sets until it all bleeds together in one stronger mass.
WKTD has sleep sirens - loudspeakers upon tall poles, each tuned to receive divinity, to keep the campers safe in case the devil attacks. There is something ritualistically beautiful about maintaining the sleep sirens, climbing the poles to fix the crystal receivers that shatter after a time because the signal that they channel is too strong to be truly contained for long.
If you were ever someone who listened to radios, reader, you may be familiar with a phenomenon that is beautiful in communion between the natural and the arcane. Radios all have antennae, but antennae can be almost anything, depending on the resonance of the base frequency you aim to receive, it just has to amplify signals proportional to a whole number multiple of the wavelength. Pretty often, you can improve reception on a radio receiver with a weak signal, simply by touching the antenna, thus joining your body with the circuit. It isn't harmful, you won't be shocked, you're just receiving the waves all the time, and with the aid of this device you can pour them into crystals to make the sound. It's beautiful. Antennas are one of the closest things that we have to real magic.
Each of the characters is described as having a different type of radio with a different type of antenna, whip or aerial or Yagi. Each has its own form, its own purpose.
Did you know that you don't really need a power source for a small radio at all? The carrier signal provides enough power for a small earphone without any internal power source at all. This is the basic principle behind a crystal radio. This is the circuit diagram for a crystal radio. It's this beautiful little 4 piece design that doesn't need any power at all, it just needs a long enough wire to hear the invisible singing of the tower that calls. During WWII, they made them in prison camps out of a rusty razor blade and a pencil lead because you don't need fancy things for a radio, you just need the knowing of the ways that waves may be captured and made to croon.
You can actually transmit radio entirely passively, piggybacking off of the signals of other broadcasters. There's enough power in the reflections of the carrier wave that you can hijack it for your own signal if you wanted. Here's an example, harvesting the power with an antenna and remodulating the signal upon it.
The Devil existing in the bands between "proper" licensed stations is also extremely aesthetically pleasing. Station signals have bleed away from the frequency that they're "located at" - that's why they're about 9 kHz apart in AM, and also why there's space between the channels where you can hear broken clamoring of other signals. The signals resonate up and down the spectrum depending on a bunch of factors. Radio works pretty much like sound, for example that produed by a wind instrument, say a flute. You can play multiple notes on the flute without actually using the holes to change the effective tube length (if you've never played a flute, or need a refreshser, Yamaha's guide to how a flute makes music). So the same way that you can have multiple resonant frequencies of the sound chamber in a flute, you have multiple resonance integer frequencies of a radio transmission. So when you say that you transmit at 108.9, you actually also have weaker diminishing signals at other resonant frequencies, or harmonics, and that's why you hear the whispers of a thousand struggling voices between the channels as the resonant echoes of all those broadcast signals compete for your attention and that of your receiver.
AM radio in particular is primally pleasing because you can hear it without any equipment at all (if the conditions are just right) - you can hear it in the spark grounding from a broadcast tower. The modulation of power itself is done in such a way that the analog signal is Right when converted to sound through the plasma gap of the spark and then you Know Things.
Every circuit in the world that switches frequencies at all is a radio. Have you ever heard a blipping sound coming from a speaker when you received a text message? That's because cell phones are powered by radio transmission, and if your speaker doesn't blind itself and isolate the signal from its input, it is Open To Influences (like the 2G SMS radio spur). Similarly, if you have a power supply for a device and it isn't Fancy Sound Equipment (and even then), it often produces broadband radio signals proportional to the power being used - if you hear the whine or buzz of a speaker that has an input cable that's next to a power cable, that's because the input is bathed in signal from the modulation of the power cable providing energy to the Device, and AM is just Amplitude Modulation which means that the electricity getting stronger and weaker? So Yeah, that's radio.