Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE ENORMOUS RADIO


Yesterday I was listening to the THE NEW YORKER podcast where this story was recently read by Nathan Englander, which brought home several things I have been thinking about. My history with radio--which I think Kent brought up a few weeks ago. What is my (your) history with radio?

First of all, I would never sit down as the woman in this story does and just listen to a Mozart piece on the radio. If music is playing, I am reading. Always. In fact, I could enjoy live concerts more if I could read while watching them.

What I listen to most on the radio now is NPR. Or some sort of informational show. Even back in the day, when we first moved to Detroit in 1970, I listened to the talk shows on at that time. I carried the radio with me from room to room as I cleaned my house in the morning. There were not usually political shows but more focused on what was going in in many areas. WJR was a great radio station then-with the Tiger games, Karl Haas, and a  lot of other guys whose names I barely remember now. When WJR turned to broadcasters like Dr. Laura, and those even more crazy, I turned WJR off for good. Have never gone back to it either.

There are a couple classical/jazz stations we sometimes listen to in the car, but generally we don't listen to music on the radio. We are more likely to find something on the computer. Or play CDs.

As a kid in Philly, I listened to music on the radio all the time. They played the music I wanted to hear then. Maybe it was WFIL, I can no longer remember. I am pretty sure it was an AM station though. I don't know if I knew about FM or if it was around for pop music.

I don't remember the era when the radio played dramas and comedies but I bet I would have loved it.

What about you? What is your history with radio?



26 comments:

Anonymous said...

When we were kids there were three main AM stations playing rock & roll - WABC (the big one, with the 50,000 watt transmitter that reached down to Florida, it seemed), WMCA (my personal favorite) and WINS, which had Alan Freed and Murray the K but went all-news in 1965. WABC had the smallest playlist as their philosophy was to play the big hits over and over again every hour.

In the early 1970's I listened to a country station for a couple of years but then discovered "oldies" as played on WCBS-FM and stayed with it for the most part. When Jackie was working I'd have it on basically from 9 to 3 every day. Sadly, as we boomers aged they cut the 1950's from their playlist and then most of the early 1960's as well, adding in the 1980's. They lost me more and more, and when Jackie retired and was home all the time I quit listening. Now I only put it on in the car and check WINS for the headlines, weather and traffic.

Sad, but there it is.

The big thing was the personalities of the DJ's. Frankly I never cared for "Cousin Brucie" on WABC. I did like his afternoon colleague, Dan Ingram, who later did a weekend show on WCBS-FM.

Jeff M. (from the geezer bus)

George said...

Once I had a transistor radio, I listened to music on the radio most of the time. Now, I only listen to radio when I'm driving around in my car. Usually, it's NPR or our sports talk radio station. DJs have pretty much died out here. It's all automated music now.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I no longer listen to the radio but when I did it was on an old Murphy, for the news (read by so and so in a baritone voice) and old Hindi and English songs on All India Radio, and later on a pocket transistor, for the cricket commentary. I must rediscover the joys of listening to the radio and see if Radio Ceylon still exists, so much was a throwback to the Brits.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I forgot to mention that now I occasionally listen to FM radio mostly for American and British chartbusters, which isn't the same as listening to the radio. Tuning in to SW and MW frequencies used to be fun, as was the peculiar squeaky sounds they made. And then there was the aerial which made all the difference.

Anonymous said...

Like George I had a transistor radio. I took it to the beach (where the batteries always ran down!) and listened to it under the covers late at nightm, where I was able to pull in stations as far away as Detroit's CKLW!

Those were the days.

*sigh*

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I still have a transistor radio, which I am looking for right now because of the storms they're predicting today!
Listening on the beach-did adults tolerate it? I can't remember. Maybe we held it right up to our ear.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There is a station here that plays oldies from the fifties.

Kieran Shea said...

When I used to drive a lot for work good comedy and NPR prevented a lot of road rage for me. I still like football/hockey on the radio...TV announcers can be so lazy.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very true about sports on TV. Radio announcers allow you to imagine what is going on so skillfully. I sometime prefer that.

John said...

In the early 70s my two brothers and I got transistor radios for Christmas one year. I felt so adult. I'd strap it to my bike and blast out the music of 77-WABC (You have to say that in the catchy jingle and follow it with their one time catchphrase: "The music's on us!") with Cousin Brucie more often than not spinning the records. My brothers and I also listened to Jean Shepard on WOR -- I think it was Sunday nights. Some of the funniest and most captivating radio ever done, IMO. I like that radio was a sort of rite of passage for me and my brothers in the 1970s. We started out with AM radio and then slowly transitioned to FM radio by the time we got to high school and discovered a whole new world of music in the AOR (album oriented rock) stations. When I was 17 or so I got a radio that had a special channel that picked up TV frequencies and would listen to "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (a forbidden TV show in our home) when I was supposed to be sleeping in bed. I used a earphone plugged into the back to prevent noisy parents putting their ear to the closed bedroom door.

On a recent road trip through rural Illinois we came across the most bizarre radio station that was like travelling back in time. They were playing that horrible MOR instrumental stuff, just a step above Muzak, and then suddenly we'd hear Judy Garland or Jerry Vale or Vic Damone or Jo Stafford. No one plays that music on the radio anymore unless it's done as some sort of ironic joke. It was surreal! Most of the songs they played I'd never heard in my life but Joe would surprise me and start singing along. "You know that song?" "Yes," he would tell me. "My mother had that record." We had a blast listening that station. Too bad I can't remember the city or the call letters. We'll probably never find it again.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There is no one like Jean Sheppard. I bet you can still hear him if you poke around.
Yes, radio was special for a long time...and now it is not. Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Patti, Jackie agrees with me that she took the radio to the beach too. She said it was mostly kids anyway and everyone was listening so as you walked from your blanket to the water and back you'd hear the same song as you passed.

As a kid I remember asking my father to sit in the car so I could listen to the Yankee game when we went somewhere. Of course, in those days they still played holiday doubleheaders, which have since gone the way of the dodo.

Jeff M.

Cap'n Bob said...

I started listening when I was a kid in Virginia and rock was just starting. As I teen I lived in upstate New York and my experience was much like Jeff's, although I didn't hear WINS. I got a large, odd-looking radio for Xmas when I was about 16 and on Sunday nights I could get WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia on it. Country music.

After I got out of the Army the only time I listened to a radio was in the car. Album stations from San Francisco in the seventies, then oldies stations from Seattle once I moved up here. When the oldies left off the fifties, sixties, and early-seventies I switched over to talk radio. About a week ago I got a CD player and now I don't listen to radio at all.

Cap'n Bob said...

To clarify, I got a CD player in my truck. For some reason I rarely listen to music in the house.

Anonymous said...

John, speaking of bizarre radio stations: several years ago we were driving up Arizona Rt. 60 from my parents' house west of Phoenix to Las Vegas. Somewhere past Wickenburg we picked up a station that didn't seem to have any human working. They played 1950's and early 1960's rock & roll (I remember "Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace) one after the other, and occasionally a recorded voice would name the station. It didn't last long but it was almost like something out of a Stephen King novel, as if we were in some odd time warp.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Transistor radios were tiny, I think. Not like boom boxes!

Deb said...

All the mentions of transitor radios made me think of a claim made by David Halberstam in his book, THE FIFTIES: The widespread availability of transitor radios was the prime mover in the development of what we now see as "youth/teenage" culture. Prior to that, a radio was a large piece of furniture* that sat in the living room and everyone in the family, regardless of age, listened to the same thing. With transistors, radio became portable and teens began demanding their own music.

*This also puts me in mind of the fact that the reason Brian Epstein ever heard of the Beatles, let alone managed them, was because he managed his family's furniture store and, because a record player like a radio was a piece of furniture, furniture stores sold records. So many teenagers started asking if the store had any Beatle records, Epstein went to check them out.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved that book!

Kathy D. said...

In 1957, for my 11th birthday, my parents got me my own little radio. I then played it all of the time, including at night when I went to bed.
I learned about rock-and-roll and rhythm and blues from that radio and Chicago stations.
Moved to New York two years later, and had that radio on all the time. It got me through high school, the top 10, the top 50, the top 100 hit songs. I was listening to it as I did my home work!
To this day, I remember songs and lyrics much more vividly than what I read in last week's New York Times. My sister says it's because we listened to each song 200 times!
I love oldies. I'm one of those people who still jumps up and cheers when old r&b quartets sing on PBS fund-raising shows. I know all of those songs, and love that harmony.
I don't listen to the radio any more, sadly.

Cap'n Bob said...

Around 1964 I was in Times Square and saw a radio that was so small it would fit in a Marlboro cigarettes box. I spent $12 on it--a fortune then--and listened to it everywhere. It had an earpiece on a wire so I could listen in school as it nestled in an empty cigarette pack. One boiling summer day I left it on the rear deck of the family car and it melted.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can remember those songs too. I guess it was from playing them so much but the lyrics seemed more memorable then--more tied to the tune.
Loved those tiny radios, Bob. You felt like it was playing the song just of you.

pattinase (abbott) said...

For you. It's 4:00 so I am tired.

Margot Kinberg said...

I have to admit I listen to music more than talk on the radio. Unfortunately the talk shows in this area...well, let's just say they aren't of interest to me..

Chris said...

I used to LOVE the radio. Still do, but I never listen anymore. I grew up with it for music, but as an adult listened to mostly talk programs. Sports radio, NPR, etc. Don't listen to any of it now, though. I hate sports talk, I've decided, and around here we just don't have any decent stations.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Big mistake programming everything to be so nondescript.

Todd Mason said...

Aha, Patti--you are now willing to listen to a podcast on occasion, beyond interviews?

WFIL was the most consistently dominant pop radio station in Phil in the latter '50s and early '60s. George Michael got his first broadcasting prominence as a bland, slick jock, and went onto a career as a bland, slick tv sportscaster in DC, with his SPORTS MACHINE series going national. There's still (I think) an all-Sinatra format station in the area, and a high school station in Delaware that devotes most of its night programming to deep cuts in the doo-wop era.

You know, CBS was still offering new radio drama weekly (SUSPENSE and YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR) until 1962; GUNSMOKE ran on CBS radio till 1960. Then the CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATER began in 1974, which led eventually to several more CBS radio anthologies in the '70s, while NPR, Pacifica and some syndicated projects were also busy in this field in that decade (alongside such durable religious drama anthologies as UNSHACKLED). NBC had a few short-term experiments and BOB AND RAY in the balance of the '60s.

I found older and contemporary radio/audio drama and spoken word records (on LP and cassette) in the libraries as a child, and never gave up. Boston radio was surprisingly ungood (decent classical on NPR), Honolulu slightly better (though no one was ever too successful with jazz in the '80s), and DC pretty good (Baltimore is probably the best situated place in the US for public radio, at very least). Mostly NPR and college radio (Princeton, Drexel, a few others) in the car now in Philly (occasionally supplemented with the mildly progressive WURD talk radio), all kinds podcasts and BBC Radio 4 and other radio while working...THE NOW SHOW as I type.