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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
2 January 2007

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Factsheet

In Touch
Radio 4
TX Day and Date Tuesday 020107
TX Time 20:40 - 21:00
Line Identity 0800 044 044

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Cheryl Gabriel


Contributors 

Raul Midon - Singer whose album State of Mind is widely available, and his brother, Marco. 


GENERAL CONTACTS

RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (UK callers only - Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
Web: www.rnib.org.uk
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.


HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Old Trafford
Manchester
M16 0GS
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Email: info@hsbp.co.uk
Web: www.henshaws.org.uk
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.


THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Burghfield Common
Reading
RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Email: guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk
Web: www.guidedogs.org.uk
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.


ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
London
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
Web: www.afbp.org
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.


NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
Central Office
Swinton House
324 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DD
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103

National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.


NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
Far Cromwell Road
Bredbury
Stockport
SK6 2SG
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
Email: enquiries@nlbuk.org
Web: www.nlb-online.org
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.


DISABILITY RIGHTS COMMISSION (DRC)
Freepost MID 02164
Stratford-upon-Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Web: www.drc-gb.org
The DRC aims to act as a central source of advice on the rights of disabled people, while helping disabled people secure their rights and eliminate discrimination. It can advise on the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).


DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
London
W9 2HU
Tel: 0845 130 9177
Web: www.dlf.org.uk
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.


The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
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Transcript

IN TOUCH

TX: 02.01.07 2040-2100

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE 

PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL 
 
White
Good evening.

Music

Now we often ask people to introduce themselves but not many people can do it musically. That is someone who you heard on the programme a few months ago - Raul Midon - but that's got a particular significance, Raul, hasn't it?

Midon
Yeah that's my amateur radio call sign that I incorporated into one of my songs called Sitting in the Middle . It's actually KB5ZOT. If you listen to it very closely - that's K - that's B - that's 5 - that's Z - is O - is T.

White
Which I'm sure all radio hams will instantly recognise.

Of course you were on the programme because you're one of a long and distinguished line of blind musicians, you were featured on the programme a few months ago, and your latest album is out - State of Mind .

Midon
Yes.

White
But just before we come back to that, I mean how much of a radio ham are you, how much do you actually use that wonderful old technology?

Midon
Oh I'd say I probably in some form or other use it everyday. I mean I have a - I have what we call a HF receiver that I travel with all over the world and I have a loop antenna that I put on the windowsill of every hotel that I ever go into and I listen to short wave. And then I also have a little hand held transceiver that I use for VHF and UHF. But there's some guys I talk to, actually in London , on a UHF repeater.

White
Right. But you've also, as we've mentioned on the programme, you have a blind twin brother - Marco - do you talk to him on the ...

Midon
Absolutely, we talk on the radio all the - sometimes we talk on the radio even if it's not as good, just to talk on the radio as opposed to the phone or the computer or whatever.

White
We thought that was a bit complex to set up but we have actually got Marco on a piece of old technology known as the telephone and he's in Maryland . Marco, good morning.

Marco Midon
Good morning, good morning.

White
So you two - that's how you get to chat from time to time is it?

Marco Midon
Yes depending on how the propagation is, we can chat on the ham radio.

White
Sorry propagation - that's a technical term ...

Marco Midon
Yeah that's the atmosphere - the ...

Midon
The conditions.

Marco Midon
...ionosphere can influence how radio propagates - goes from one place to another.

White
Okay, the scientific references are perhaps not surprising because Marco you are a scientist at NASA.

Marco Midon
I'm actually an engineer at NASA, responsible for the Goddard Space Flight Centre, we are building the ground stations for the solar dynamics observatory mission and the lunar reconnaissance orbiting mission.

White
So as a set of blind twins you've not done too badly for yourselves really.

Midon
I guess not.

White
We'll come back to Marco a little later on. Raul, we wanted to bring you back because there seemed so much more to talk about. But just your musical career, in a way it took off didn't it, three or four years ago there was an incident in a club which sort of set it all going?

Midon
Well you know it's interesting because take off is a relative term. I mean I got certain breaks - I was playing at a club in the village in New York and somebody came up to me and said - How would you like to play Carnegie Hall? I said - Yeah ...

White
The way people do.

Midon
... I would, some day, I would love to do that. And he said - How about next month? And it was for a show - I just played one song - it wasn't even one of my songs, it was a Stevie Wonder song for a show called The Movie Music Of Spike Lee but it got written about in the New York Times and all that stuff. So that was one of the things that happened.

White
And it was Spike Lee who wanted you to do it very badly wasn't it.

Midon
Absolutely, well he didn't want me to do it originally, he then, once he heard me do it, he called me up and said that I had to come to the Hollywood Bowl because they were doing the same show there and I did it there. And then I ended up writing a song for one of his movies. So it was ...

White
But that was sort of the break in a way that took you from being a well respected musician, doing things for other people, to somebody doing your own thing.

Midon
I think it helped, yeah. And meeting Arif Martin was probably the other one because Arif had the sort of wherewithal, the influence, the track record - all of those things came together and he said - I want to record this. And he was working as both a producer and an executive at Manhattan Records at EMI, so that really helped as well.

White
State of Mind is out, how is it going, how is the publicity and the sales going for it?

Midon
Well I'm working all the time, travelling all the time, so yes it's going as well as can be expected. It's going great.

White
To what extent - I mean the whole thing about records taking off, careers taking off, there's a lot of luck involved, you mentioned that one meeting - but also it's a marketing process. You're a blind musician, there's plenty of precedent of course for blind musicians doing pretty well but is this an issue - is it a marketing issue - do people want you to do something?

Midon
Well it hasn't been marketed that way. I mean everything is marketing in a sense, in the sense that maybe people see me and they see that I'm blind and people think well he has to be good since he's blind, I don't know. But you know we haven't really marketed me per se as a blind musician.

White
But you do get that sense that almost the reverse perhaps of some ...

Midon
I think blindness is actually good. Maybe a lot of us have an issue with blindness and maybe feeling inferior or feeling like we don't fit in or whatever. I mean I certainly had those issues but I realised when I started doing this that actually blindness make people remember you and makes you not as forgettable. You know there's a million singer songwriters out there and maybe blindness has that effect. So hey whatever.

White
A handy gimmick maybe.

Well perhaps one of the most distinctive things about your work is - I mean the voice is distinctive - but the way you use the guitar, not just perhaps as a guitar but almost as a percussive instrument.

Midon
Right, right. It's something that I've always heard drums and guitars sort of happening at the same time and I've always kind of - even unconsciously - been trying to look for a way to sort of meld the two things together and I obviously couldn't play drums and guitar at the same time. So I came up with, for instance, the title track of my record.

Music

You know it has that kind of thing to it, so. I'm actually using my right hand and my left hand to not only do the normal strum thing that everybody does but to hit the guitar with my fingers and then also use the - actually the left hand to do rhythm.

Music

So this is actually just my left hand playing and this is my right hand. So I combine them.

White
There is that almost - it is almost a tradition in a sense because the musicians - the blind musicians who've made it have tended to be multi-talented, haven't they, you know you've got someone like Stevie Wonder playing so many instruments, I wonder is that - was that a sort of subconscious influence in a way?

Midon
Absolutely, no I mean conscious ...

White
Not even subconscious.

Midon
Yeah very conscious and an influence both musically as well as just an inspiration that someone blind could make it that far and have that good of a career. We were always told if you want to be successful in this world as a blind person you have to be better, not just as good, you have to be better.

White
And do you think that's true, do you think you do have to be better?

Midon
I do. You can't look at everybody else and say well you know they worked from nine to five and you can't do that, if you want to be even just as good as anybody else you have to work that much harder and if you want to be better you just have to figure out how to dedicate yourself to something. At least that's been - I think both of our experiences. We just really absorbed this notion that as a blind person you are handicapped, there are certain things you can't do but it doesn't mean that there aren't other things - there are other ways that you can contribute to the world at large.

White
Seems a good moment to bring Marco back in because you're talking about we and this is obviously something presumably Marco that was pretty inculcated from your youth?

Marco Midon
Yeah and I have the opposite thing going which is that blind engineers - that's not something that you think of as going together. Engineering has a lot of aspects to it that are visual and certainly that made it difficult, in fact so difficult that I actually doubted myself and I very much thought about going to law school...

White
Because that's one of those okay jobs for blind people?

Marco Midon
Well and also because - you know being blind and poor was not an option so I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen.

Midon
I like to take credit for helping to talk him out of that whole law thing.

Marco Midon
And then I was offered a job here at NASA and my thinking was well getting to work at NASA isn't necessarily something that is just going to come along, whereas I can always go back to law school. So I took that. And you know my first couple of years were okay, I worked at NASA, I got in, but it still wasn't happening and I wasn't on a big project, I didn't come here to just sit in my office - okay so I worked at NASA and I could say that but I wasn't doing anything and I have to say I started to complain about it, I started to say you know if I don't get on a big project I'm going to law school.

White
So you've both obviously got this strong will to succeed. I just wondered how different you were - Raul, perhaps I can put this to you - as kids, were you the artistic one ...?

Midon
Absolutely, we were always involved in each other's field in the sense that I was very much into radio and we would put up antennas together, Marco would usually go out on the roof and I would be inside saying yeah it's working great now or it's not working great now or whatever. But Marco and I played together, we actually played on US public television when we were, I don't know, six or seven years old, we used to play and sing together. So ...

White
Really.

Midon
Oh yeah.

Marco Midon
Yeah, yeah we did - we used to sing and play, sing harmony and stuff like that.

White
I bet you had them in tears in front rooms all over America - two blind six year olds - god I can just imagine it.

Midon
We used to sing - actually we used to - oh I just remembered we're in Britain - but we used to sing this song called The Battle of the British [Laughter].

White
You can't sing it now can you - do you know it?

Midon
It goes - let me see if I can remember it. Hold on - let me get the key. One, two, three...

Music

But the delay's going to screw us up Marco, we can't do it.

Marco Midon
... isn't going to work.

Midon
It's not going to work.

White
Let's just ...

Midon and Marco singing ...

Midon
We used to sing that ...

White
That works better without the guitar, I think for some reason that helps the delay. You two should get that out - I think that would sell.

Midon
It's an old Johnny Horton song.

Marco Midon
Well one thing that's happening is that there's a gate happening on the audio and that's why the guitar is ...

Midon
Oh right there's compression, that's what it is.

White
One thing that I'm really interested in, because you two are blind brothers, you're both very confident obviously, neither of you know this but I have a blind brother as well, an elder blind brother, and I often - when I'm talking to people about this - I often say it's the biggest advantage I have because some people think I'm confident or some people say bumptious and all those kind of words and I've always said that one of the reasons for that is if you've got a - I have an elder blind brother who perhaps paved the way for me, to some extent, did things because he was quite competent, my parents said - sort of expected, had higher expectations. And I just wonder whether there's an element of that. I know your dad was enormously supportive and ...

Midon
Actually it's very interesting because although we were both legally blind actually Marco saw until he was 15 years old out of one eye, which when you're blind that's seeing, even to - maybe legally it might be considered blind, I mean we both learned Braille. So actually Marco wasn't really blind until after the age of 15, whereas I have been completely blind all my life.

Marco Midon
Yeah and that probably did have influence in terms of me going more into electronics because we were both into electronics and music but being able to see, even to a limited extent, meant that I could solder - although blind people do solder. I could look at schematics and stuff like that as a young person. And so I think that probably did have something to do with that.

Midon
Yeah I have to tell this story because this is a story of one of our electronic exploits. We used to live in a rural area in New Mexico and we didn't have a phone, believe it or not, we had everything else - we were radio operators, we could talk to Australia , but we couldn't talk across the street, we had no phone. So when we became teenagers we decided we had to have a phone. So this was just during the break up of the US company AT&T, which was the monopoly phone company.

White
Yeah we'd know that name over here.

Midon
Right. And basically what it meant was that normally when you got a phone line you would get the phone and....

Marco Midon
The instrument and so after the break up they put the phone line in and you got your own instrument and it was right when that started happening.

Midon
So we get the phone line but no phone.

Marco Midon
Oh there's one thing we should say, okay our dad was away, he used ...

White
We get the picture.

Marco Midon
So he was away, so we were there by ourselves and so they put the phone line in and there was no instrument. And so I said we're going to have wait four or five days till he gets back. So we're thinking we've got a phone line but we can't use it.

Midon
Right, so basically what we did was - a little bit of Marco's engineering skills and my skill with a Morris code key - we built the phone using a condenser mic - go ahead Marco describe it ...

Marco Midon
Basically a condenser mic, some transformers - because I used to - any house we'd go to sometimes even when we'd sing you know we'd say got any old radios we want - and so people would give us their junk or we'd just collect it from anywhere because remember also if you live in a rural area Radio Shack is 20 miles away or 50 miles away and you don't drive you might as well be on the moon, I mean if you want any parts or something you got whatever you got. So out of transformer and some condenser mic, a doorbell buzzer for the ringer ...

Midon
Which we hooked up to the stereo, so when the phone rang it shook the whole house.

Marco Midon
Yeah and a telegraph key to make and break the connection. This is where the real talent - this is where Raul was the one - it took me longer to get to be able to dial the numbers, you know, with a phone the way you dial the numbers is you make and break the connection the number of times that the number ...

White
Yeah, so that's about rhythm and coordination.

Midon
So for instance if you wanted to dial the number five you'd go one, two, three, four five.

White
Yeah we used to do that.

Marco Midon
Okay but the trick was that a Morris code key's normal position is off and its position is on only when you press it down. Well that's exactly the opposite that you want. So you dial the number and then you'd forget and let it go and you'd hang up on yourself before you had a chance to make a connection.

Midon
Right, so the only way to dial a number was backwards, so you had to hit the key and pick it up to dial one. So instead of one, two, three, four, five - they can't see what I'm doing - you have to lift your hand up - one, two, three, four, five - it was really hard.

Marco Midon
Yeah it's like an inverted logic basically.

White
But it worked?

Midon
It worked yeah. So yeah we built a phone basically.

White
Okay well look guys we're racking up the phone bill to Maryland and you may have heard that the BBC's in a bit of financial trouble. So we're going to have to end fairly soon. Just a couple of quick things I want to ask you. You've made this point what radio ham and radio fans you were, you used to listen to World Service didn't you?

Midon
Yeah we got a transoceanic radio when we were five or six, which is the old Zenith short wave solid state radio and so we're both really ...

White
Do you want to give us - just quick give us the call sign very quickly?

Marco Midon
Oh the da, da, da ....

World Service call sign - Midon

Marco and Raul Midon
This is London .

White
And that was Marco and Raul Midon. Thank you guys, thank you both very much. It's amazing what a bit of confidence and a father who's obviously very tolerant will do. Raul, would you just like to play us out with something very suitable. Marco, thanks very much indeed for joining us.

Marco Midon
Oh you're very welcome.

Music

White
That amazing Midon brothers - Marco and Raul. And we'll be maintaining some of those themes - the artistic and the scientific ones - next week. Last Thursday's afternoon play was called Darkness and it explored one man's unusual reaction to the news that he was going blind as a result of macula degeneration. Devising for himself a kind of rehearsal for the darkness he assumes facing him. It was produced by BBC Radio Wales and written by DJ Britton and we'll be talking to David Britton next week about the play and his reasons for writing it. If you'd like to hear it before next week's programme it's available on listen again and you can get details of how to hear it either from our action line on 0800 044 044 or from our website. That's it for today, from me Peter White, my producer Cheryl Gabriel and the rest of the team, hope you enjoyed it, goodbye.




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