December 13, 2018

I’m Thankful for the Radio

Guglielmo Marconi, the father of the radio

Note from CM: It is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., and I’d like to take each day leading up to the holiday to share a few of the blessings I’m thankful for. I’ve decided this year to focus on some people and things that have had an impact on me personally, so you may find my list a bit quirky. Nevertheless we each have unique factors that have shaped us and made us who we are. You’ll meet a few of mine this week.

• • •

I’m Thankful for the Radio

That’s why God made the radio
So tune right in, everywhere you go
He waved His hand, gave us rock ‘n roll
The soundtrack of falling in love
That’s why God made the radio

• The Beach Boys

I’m thankful for the radio.

Garrison Keillor has been a “radio man” in the sense that performing on the radio has been his vocation. I call myself a “radio guy” in the sense that the radio has been my constant companion through life and a joy, encouragement, inspiration, and education for me.

My earliest memories of the radio took place when I was in early elementary school. I lived in Galesburg, Illinois, and our town was basketball crazy. The high school team was one of the state’s best teams, and we had Dale Kelly, one of the best players in the state. My dad used to take me to games, but when we stayed home, I listened to them on the radio, laying on the bed and keeping score. I still enjoy sports on the radio as a main means of access.

We moved to Dixon, Illinois a few years later, and a new kind of radio caught my attention and fascination. It was the mid-1960s and I began listening to music more or less constantly. I can still recall coming home after school, setting my transistor radio outside near me, and swinging or playing while WLS in Chicago counted down the Top Ten. I bought the occasional 45 or album, but it was the radio that I listened to most.

I had a rectangular, battery operated transistor radio that I used to take to bed with me at night. I laid it under my pillow, or sometimes directly against my ear, and fell asleep to the Dave Clark Five, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, and the Beatles. This was all before FM radio ever came on my radar. It was AM all the time, and at night strong signals from other parts of the country would sometimes fade in, giving me a sense of being connected to the wide world.

Of course, that all changed as I came of age. Then it was FM, album rock, and hi fidelity. And until radio became all corporate and programmed, that’s how it was.

When I began my adult life in Vermont, we had no TV. Cable was not available up in the mountains yet, and we weren’t so sure we wanted a television anyway. But we loved the radio. Whether it was the daytime programs, news, or reports from people like Paul Harvey or Earl Nightingale, or the local stations, we had the radio on.

That’s also when we started to listen to NPR shows like All Things Considered and Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. The local FM stations were eclectic and quirky, and we could always fill our evenings with interesting entertainment, interviews, or stories.

When Gail worked second shift at a small hospital in a little town over the mountain, I would go to pick her up and listen to a station that played old time radio dramas and mysteries. I loved sitting in my car and getting lost in those tales.

I’m still an NPR guy, and as I drive around the city going to visits I have it on most days. Today’s radio music stations are mostly a wasteland, as far as I’m concerned, but every once in awhile I’ll scan through and catch a song. We do have a station here in Indy that is less programmed and geared toward college-age and young adult listeners, and it’s pretty good. I mainly listen to find artists I haven’t heard before. Public radio has several good music shows: The Folk Sampler, Thistle & Shamrock, Live from Here, All Songs Considered, for example. I watch more TV these days, but occasionally tune in and enjoy these programs. And if I’m in a classical music mood, there’s plenty of that, especially on the Bloomington NPR station out of Indiana University.

As you might imagine, the best thing of all for me is listening to baseball on the radio. And this is a golden age for that. With MLB.com, I can subscribe to their audio feed and listen to any and every game all year long.

That’s my happy place: listening to baseball on the radio.

But whatever I’m listening to, I’m thankful for this fantastic technology, this medium that highlights the power of words, the human voice, and the gift of sound. I’m thankful that it has been such a faithful companion, such a friend, such a part of my life and being.

 

Comments

  1. Nice post.

    My favorite memories of radio:

    KZOK and KISW here in Seattle – Classic Rock. I used to love their Beatles blitzes, or the periodic “Best Rock Song of All Time” marathons.

    As a teen, getting into bed at 10pm and listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater, hosted by E. G. Marshall.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmXDsRLYXow (the squeaky door beginning of the show is at about 0:54).

    Dave Niehaus calling Mariners games in the late 70s.

    And of course…Dr. Demento on Sunday evenings!

    • Dan from Georgia says:

      hey Rick,

      Back in the Twin Cities, Classic Rock powerhouse KQRS (92FM) had their annual Classic Rock 500 countdown.

      Of course EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin was #1.

      • The battle here in Seattle always came down to “Stairway to Heaven” vs. “Hey Jude” (that was always a head scratcher finalist to me). And yeah, “Stairway” always won.

        • Dan from Georgia says:

          Yep, I seem to remember “Hey Jude” being in the top 5 at KQRS. It became kind of anti-climactic with Zepplin always #1.

    • Dr. Demento!!! Back in the seventies when my brother and I listened, the song Shaving Cream used to keep us rolling on the floor….

      Also Pittsburgh is the home of AM radio station KDKA famous for what (radio trivia)?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “THE DOCTOR IS IIIIIIIN!”

        Except I was in range of his home station, so we got the Four Hour show with the Top Ten instead of the Funny Five.

        “Little bit of Heaven
        Ninety-four Point Seven,
        K-M-E-T — Tweedle Eeee!”

  2. Ah yes, I remember as a kid growing up in Baltimore listening to the Orioles on the radio, and sitting in the car listening to the Harley Show, nostalgic swing jazz that my dad liked to listen to. And later in bed with the headphones and a towel draped over the radio so the light wouldn’t show, listening to Hendrix and the Doors on Kirby Scott’s “Underground Hour”. And later as an adult in Newport, RI listening to WGBH, Boston’s flagship NPR station, especially Robert J. Lurtsema’s Morning Pro Musica, starting the day with 5 minutes of bird song. Yup, radio carries a lot of memories!

    • I miss Robert J.!

      He had a gift for programming classical music like no other.

      • Heh, heh! I looked forward to April 1 every year because he ALWAYS had Peter Schickele on for the latest from PDQ Bach. And he was one of the few classical hosts back in those days who featured a lot of Early Music. He was especially active with the whole Christmas Revels thing, both as a performer and a promoter, and Morning Pro Musica in the holiday season was always a joyful noise of medieval merriment!

  3. Uncanny how pieces of our paths are similar.

    My first memory of radio was growing up in Northern Indiana. I remember listening to the “Homer and Jethro”
    show — I think it was mostly a few jokes, but I remember before school listening on my transistor radio.

    I’ve been a radio lover since then. I’m involved in a hobby called DXing, where you try and snag as many
    radio stations as you can. The great thing is, if I don’t feel like pursuing distant stations, I can just listen for
    enjoyment.

    Baseball and radio also go together for me. After the Cubs won the WC in 2016, the sports station in
    Chicago replayed the World Series games between Christmas and New Year’s. That was quite
    enjoyable,

  4. Dan from Georgia says:

    Yes, radio! A comfort in the night.

    Anyone from the Twin Cities remember Hobb’s House on WCCO (830 AM) from the 1970s?

    And of course there was The Cannon Mess each afternoon (Steve Cannon) with his “co-horts” Ma Linger, Morgan Mundane, and Backlash Larue!

    Also loved listening to A Light In The Night on the local Christian radio station in the 1990s. I cannot remember the host, but he had a real calming and deep voice.

  5. CM , Great glimpse of the power and importance of radio in American culture that is waning due to the inevitable advance of technology. The “local” AM radio DJ’s were major figures in the community and well known. In Miami WQAM and WFUN were the two competing stations for the teens. Radio was so powerful to influence a record’s become a hit , it led to the payola “scandal”. No air time , no hit. Casey Kassum weekly countdown was syndicated nationwide, I believe. The “Hit Parade” was an early TV show, a radio show on TV.

    The only way I know “old” time serial radio is by Sirrus radio in my car. I think the beauty of radio is you could visualize and paint your own ;picture. To me the Lone Ranger will always look like Clayton Moore and Tonto , Jay Silverheels but to pre TV , only radio generation they could have their “own: image of Lone Ranger and all the others.
    Of course the early TV shows were a large part of just bringing the radio show to TV. Of course , William Conrad did not make the Gunsmoke transfer as you could actually see Marshall Dillon and I do no think anyone would picture William Conrad..

    Not a big fan of NPR , as it is too packaged for me. Without a doubt Rush Limbaugh actually changed AM broadcasting venue and politics, that is the power of radio. Paul Harvey, who could not love to hear the rest of the story? The “dedication” shows on AM were people , mostly girls, would dedicate a song to their true , everlasting love of the month.

    Thanks for the “blast from the past”. What a great time to be young in the late 50’s and 60’s but really anytime is great to be young. The advent of the “transistor radio really help propel AM for teens. And only know this from history , but War of the Worlds impact was so impressive, the ;power of imagination displayed.

    Radio , another thing I take for granted until it is brought to my attention. Still love it.

    • I never cared much for NPR either, except for Click and Clack on Car Talk. Nevertheless, I’ve supported NPR for years, through my taxes!

      • Sort of like all the non-churchgoers, atheists, and religiously unaffiliated have supported all our churches for decades, by taking up the tax slack for tax-exempt religious institutions.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Yep.

        • Robert F. No one mentioned the funding of NPR, Ken P. and I just said we did not care about it. It was just a part of the conversation about radio.. You put your agenda into a pretty clear comment. Why go into the tax exempt status of religious institutions? 44 to 47 percent of American do not pay federal income taxes at all but maybe they are religious as they pray they will not be audited.

          Need to stay on the Thanksgiving path Chaplin Mike is trying to get us to walk and for that and radio , I am thankful. I get a lot of info off radio , that is why I have a My Pillow, great theme song..

          • The implication of Ken P.’s reply to your comment was just as clear as my reply to his. I won’t say anymore on the subject.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Why go into the tax exempt status of religious institutions?

            When all you have is a hammer…?

            • Headless U Guy, then you to nail it , nail it to the door or you can” hammer out freedom, hammer out justice, hammer out love between my brothers and sisters , all over the land.”. got a lot of air time. Sometimes the message goes viral even using quill, parchment and nail. Can you imagine if they had radio,?

  6. I had similar memories, CM, but in a different part of the country. Lots of sports.

    ca. 1969 – In the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Standing on top of an 8 ft. tall scaffold made of plywood and 2×4’s in the back of my Dad’s pickup, transistor radio held against my head watching Richard Petty, David Pearson and the other NASCAR stars of the day. The Motor Racing Network radio broadcast kept me informed of the action on parts of the track I couldn’t see.

    ca. 1977 – Lying in bed at night, listening to the Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson or Pete Van Wieren call the Braves games on my clock-radio. Each announcer took a turn on the radio while the other 2 did the TV coverage on Ted Turner’s Superstation.

    April 4, 1983 – NC State vs. Houston, the NCAA Basketball Tournament Championship game, score tied at 52, about 5 seconds left, with the voice of the Wolfpack, Wally Ausley:

    “… Whittenburg tries about a 30 footer. No good, STUFFED BACK! Lorenzo Charles! State! Lorenzo Charles slams it in, the missed shot from about 35 feet! Lorenzo Charles slammed it, stuffed it back in!

    “The Cinderella Team has done it! The glass slipper fits! The Wolfpack has won the national championship!”

    I played trumpet in the pep band for all the basketball games. Unfortunately, I graduated from NC State in 1982. Would have gone to grad school if I had known!

  7. Oh yes, under the bedcovers at night, bakelite ear piece in one ear, listening to I-can’t-remember-what on a tiny transistor radio. That weird feeling of both being safe in a known place (my bed) and yet daring and exposed to the wild world via the radio.

  8. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    This. Here in tier#2 land nearly all radio is now a vanilla sadness. But I’m just old enough to be able to remember quirky radio, the stations where it might just be a guy reading a book, the looney AM black-helicopter stuff [before AM-talk got openly hateful], some disc jockey with his favorites; it was fun.

    For me it is almost entirely podcasts now; most of my listening is during the day when NPR is b-o-r-i-n-g and so repetitive. Podcasts provide a thankful return of the variety. I am thankful for the Podcast revolution.

    • Yes.

    • Speaking of AM radio black helicopter stuff, how about this Thanksgiving promotion by an AM station in the Midwest sometime in the 70’s.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p00nBSNIPwg

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And before that, the Seventies.

      When AM stations would gush over Captain & Tennile bubblegum Top 40 and FM stations would play “Four solid hours of The Grateful Dead”.

      • There’s no sound quite as lonely as the static and faint, ghost-like voices when the AM stations cut their power for the night. It was wonderful when my hometown got its first FM rock and roll station (WSKZ, KZ106). Rock and roll at all hours! I think that was when FM really started to take off.

        Happy memory – one warm spring morning, Philadelphia Freedom rang out from my royal blue, round AM/FM radio that hung from a really cool (i.e. cheap) chain so I could carry it around. Can you imagine: portable music! Anyway, Philadelphia Freedom to me means spring mornings and the smell of freshly cut grass.

      • Dan from Georgia says:

        Of course also on AM there was Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdown and his faux-tear-jerking weekly long-distance dedication!

        • Oh yes! Americaaaan Top 40! *hears jingle in head*

          It’s been “digitally re-mastered,” and old shows are still broadcast.

  9. senecagriggs says:

    I’m a FAMILYRADIO guy. I wasn’t when Harold Camping was spewing his dated Rapture and Church departure nonsense.
    BUT In the last year – FAMILYRADIO has done a 180. No longer are old Harold Camping segments aired; they have reached out to pastors and they now air sermons/messages by reformed Evangelicals.

    I always loved their music – soothing at night.

  10. Burro (Mule) says:

    Absolutely the most incongruous radio station on the planet has to be KPFT, the Radio Pacifica affiliate in Houston, TX. I listened to them exclusively when I lived in that deeply red city because they had the best music you could imagine. Between the Khmer Rouge/Red Army Faction political shows they played Tito and Tarantula, Pedro the Lion, Cafe Tacuba, Belle and Sebastian, Velocity Girl, and Spock’s Beard.

    Maybe the Right has prettier girls, but the Left has all the good music.

    • The left has all the good music — sorta like the devil, huh?

    • Definitely .y Saturday morning choice! The music genres shift all day – all listenable, thought-provoking and the announcers are great. Love that cowbilly banter that is so unless “red” down here.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I remember Pacifia’s Los Angeles Party Cell, KPFK.

      In the Seventies & Eighties, before they went into the Unsmiling Obsession with The Cause, they’d read weird-ass novels on their fundraising drives and midnight every Friday was “Hour 25… The Science Fiction/Science Fantasy Talk Show” with interviews, audio newsletters, dramatic readings of SF shorts-to-novels (that’s where I first heard HItchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and old SF radio serials — “X MINUS ONE!”

  11. I’m lucky to have access to a “left-of-the-dial” listener supported music station broadcast from University of Pennsylvania — WXPN. Mostly rock oriented programming, but with no commercially determined playlist so lots of outside genre music is played, newer artists and older ones, alternative rock and classic, lots of “deep cuts” rather than hits, rhythm and blues each weekday afternoon, “Highs in the Seventies” at six PM featuring popular and not so popular rock/pop of that decade, special programming on the weekends and overnight — including Saturday and Sunday morning’s program “Sleepy Hollow”, my favorite, featuring all kinds of atmospheric music of every style, type, and genre. Between that and the local NPR station, I can’t say the radio programming I listen to has ever been better in my life.

  12. I lived in Atlanta and got spoiled with college radio, WRAS from Georgia St U and WREK from Georgia Tech, not to mention listener supported WRFG, aka Radio free Georgia where the local hosts (volunteers all) programmed all their music. When I moved to DC I expected there to be some killer radio but was very disappointed. Aside from WAMU, American University, pretty bland fare. I am informed that Georgetown U once had a fine radio station but the students did something unspeakable (never found out what) and the Fathers shut them down.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > When I moved to DC I expected there to be some killer radio

      That is surprising. It seems like most of tier#1 land still has ‘living’ radio.

      The radio dial when I visit Chicago is so much better than at home [tier#2 West Michigan, home of the middle-of-the-road.].

  13. I suppose my gratitude for radio is subsumed under my general gratitude for music. Songs, hearing them and singing them, have gotten me through some tough times that no amount of prayer, theology, religion, philosophy, or wise words from friends and care-giving professionals would’ve been able to. Without those songs, I wouldn’t have made it. For those songs in those times, and others, I’m profoundly grateful.

  14. Christiane says:

    never did hear ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on the radio, but sure did enjoy the humor of Garrison Keillor’s show on telly . . . . when I think of the mythical town of Lake Wobegone, I automatically start laughing . . . . all those Norwegian batchelor farmers, the Lutherans versus the Catholics (wasn’t it said that even the Lutherans were Catholic or maybe it was the other way around in Lake Wobegone?), the daily specials down at the Chatterbox . . . so much fun!

    I’m an ‘ethnic’ person (half French Canadian) so I always enjoyed the humor Keillor provided, not that you have to come from an ‘ethnic’ background to get it, but when I read his Lake Wobegone Days and I recognize some of the characters as clones from my own father’s family, it makes for one of those ‘yep’ moments when I know I’ve found a good story teller working from genuine material. 🙂

    BTW, shout out to Robert F.
    If you want to feel better from your surgery, pick up a Keillor book on Lake Wobegone . . . . . one Christmas day, long ago, when I was at death’s door from the flu, and I picked a Keillor book and couldn’t stop laughing . . . . give it a try!

  15. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in central Florida I remember my little Zenith AM portable pulling in WLS in Chicago, WSB in Atlanta, and a station in Havana (Cuba) late at night. I enjoyed listening to The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. When I was home sick and couldn’t go to school, I could listen to Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club. and Ma Perkins (a radio soap). I also remember listening to my piano teacher do an organ broadcast on a local station. The local station to which I listened the most didn’t have a set format Depending on the day and hour, you could hear top 40 (complete with dedications), gospel, pop standards, or country/western. I vividly remember a Sunday morning gospel music program “for the sick and shut-ins” presented by a local funeral home. I’ve always wondered about that sponsorship.

    • cheesehed` says:

      Speaking of WLS…

      I still remember one of my high school teachers said he was climbing in the mountains I think in Mexico and he picked up WLS. It’s what started me on a semi-ilfelong hobby of locating distant stations.

      Also,,,in American Graffiti, they have a couple of wonderful scenes with Wolfman Jack and XERB, which
      was located a few yards into Mexico. I think I heard they were broadcassting 250000 watts! Something
      you can’t do in the US, then or now.

  16. Norma Cenva says:

    Marconi was not the father of radio.
    Nikola Tesla was.