Friday, November 11, 2005

...On The Radio

I have spent the last few weeks in a flurry of domestic activity. As the picture outside my windows gets darker, soggier, and more somber, the inside of my house is going bright, clean and sparkling. Junk drawers that have collected another year’s worth of clutter, carpeting that will need daily vacuuming for six months to catch up with what nine pets have shed during the summer months, furniture that is looking tired and dull in its same old places…all these things have been getting the hyper-Suzy-Homemaker treatment. I have loaded up every cd player in the house with my early-seasonal-that-is-not-really-Christmas music (I have so many Christmas cd’s that if I don’t start listening to them in October, I don’t get to hear all of them!)

But lately my music, which I dearly love, has left me with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. Often, I just turn it off, and toil alone in silence. And not a comfortable silence. Something is missing. In the past, I’ve not had trouble keeping myself happy and occupied when I’m alone. I don’t usually have to fight off feelings of isolation and loneliness. Yesterday, it finally dawned on me what is missing. Radio.

I became a radio junkie very early in life. I was ten years old when the "British Invasion" made radio the essential accessory for any boomer child in or approaching adolescence. I was still playing with Barbies, but I knew the Billboard Top Ten of any given week. We listened to top 40 radio as close to 24 hours a day as we possibly could. I can still name the line-up of WLS (Chicago) disc jockeys of the mid-sixties: Clark Weber, Bernie Allen, Dex Card, Ron Riley, Art Roberts. Wholesome, teeny-bopper silliness and numerous commercial breaks…and they actually got around to playing five or six records an hour, too. Remember the wondrous AM-radio concept of the "Twin Spin?" Those highly touted times when they would play two records back-to-back without a commercial in between? That was exciting, ground-breaking stuff.

In the seventies, we "matured" as an audience; we demanded more music, less talk. Once again, the boomers snapped their fingers, and the world jumped. FM radio stations, with their formats of more music, better music, the music that didn’t get air time on AM radio, rose to prominence and flourished. Remember how AM radio stationsused to edit every song to three minutes or less? Unedited airings of records like The Doors’ Light My Fire got to be known as "the FM Version."

The AM stations, having lost their musical audience to the FM band, began to embrace the "Talk Radio" format. Not, thank God, talk radio as we know it today. It was a format that offered interesting, informative presentations on a variety of subjects…home shows, shows about Hollywood and the entertainment scene, garden shows, travel shows, sports shows. One of my favorites was a program that aired on WGN radio late on Saturday afternoons. It was called "The Sportswriters." It featured a panel of sports reporters and columnists from the Chicago newspapers, engaging in that time-honored male pass-time that has since been labeled "arm-chair quarterbacking." In your mind’s eye you could see this circle of somewhat disheveled looking characters, cigar smoke circling their heads, pencils behind ears, beer or scotch in smudgy glasses…pontificating upon the finer points of the Chicago sports scene. We used to call them "The Rude Guys;" they argued, talked over each other, and made veiled, AM radio-friendly allusions to each others’ heritage. The Rude Guys. Today, they’d look more like Wally and Beaver’s older cousins.

Those were the days. You could set yourself a project, like painting the house or laying a new floor. Turn on the radio and just let it play, hour after hour, and never get bored, or angry, or tempted to grab the thing and throw it out the window. You’d laugh. You’d take a trip to somewhere you’d never been; hear a review of a new restaurant you’d like to try; learn more about some local character. You might pick up a handy tip or two. Toiling away, all by yourself, you’d almost feel like you had spent the day surrounded by friends at a really good party.

You’d even keep up with local and international news; it was reported at the top of every hour. Or, if something earth-shattering were going on, like an assassination or a natural disaster, you’d get the "We interrupt this program…" spiel. But, by and large, the news was confined to ten-minute slots at the top of every hour—five minutes for national news, five for local. And it was enough. Five minutes was plenty of time to relay the important stuff, no embellishments, no analysis, no twist or spin. Just the facts, ma’am. If only…

Ah, yes, here’s the antique fuss-budget waxing nostalgic about the good old days. Pretty pathetic. But, you know what? There are some things that HAVE gone completely to the dogs, and radio is one of them. I cannot listen to more than ten minutes of today’s "talk radio" without being induced to scream, "Oh, shut up!" and reach one hand out to slam the thing off before my other hand makes it to my head to commence tearing my hair out. If the Lord sent an angel to search for one iota of good to redeem today’s talk radio scene, He’d end up blasting it to cosmic dust before you could say "Sodom and Gomorrah." It is a showcase of pure smarm, ugliness, contentiousness, greed, rudeness…teeming with every negative aspect of the human character. Is it a true reflection of our society? I don’t know. I’m not interested in analyzing it that minutely. I only know that radio used to be one of my closest friends. And I miss it.


  1. My favorite times were really late on weekend night. I guess the local stations powered down or something at night and you could pick up the high powered stations from LA or Salt Lake or even Canada when the conditions were just right. Good talk radio, crazy evangelists, and even some half way decent music. And we won't even go into that awful night when I turned off the the primary results from California about five minutes before Bobby Kennedy went down.

    It was all analog so you'd keep fiddling with the dial hoping you could get the station to come in a little clearer. Digital is so "final" in a way. You probably wouldn't get it any clearer the other way but at least you had the satisfaction of trying. LOL


  2. LOL....that is why I listen to K-love.  Only Positve, encouraging music.  No talking at all.

    (It's all about the music.)

  3. I couldnt agree with you more. A couple of years ago, I actuall threw a radio against a wall, smashing it.  I'm just about down to NPR and a college station that plays jazz.

  4. I've never been a talk radio fan. As a matter of fact, if the DJs talk too much or there's too many commercials, I end up popping in a CD. However, radio isn't what it used to be. It's the same top 10 to 20 songs played over and over all day long. Smarmy DJs who think people actually want to hear their opinion about Paris Hilton. Please! We have a new station here called "JACK FM" that has been a wonderful respite.

    However, if you'd come over to my place and do your Suzy Homemaker gig, I'll read the newspaper to you so you can feel like the good 'ol days again.

    :-) ---Robbie

  5. OK, how do I sign up for you fan club?  I read the Fiftyish Philosophy (from the October archives) post and nearly cried -- and definitely laughed.  Maybe because I'm just about to turn 49?  I sent my dad (in Ashland, Oregon; is that near you?) that entry and he said to tell you that his favorite year-ish was 55... so there's hope!  

    I have a journal (, but have ignored it for a few months -- and even when I was writing I never had a sense of community around it.  How do you foster that?

    I will bookmark you and visit you often!  You have yet another fan!


  6. Thanks, you brought back a lot of memories.

  7. Oh, this is great.  The radio used to be my constant companion when I was young.  The only way that I made it through those isolated months of being bed bound was books and the radio.  And I agree with you totally ... today I don't even turn it on.  It certainly isn't the fun it used to be!  Pennie

  8. I used to love the FM station that played only albums

  9. I grew up listening to the radio (most of the time we didn't have a television set) and then I spent years in Chicago listening to WFMT, which is a GREAT radio station, and that spoiled me forever.  In Dallas I sometimes listen to NPR, but that's it.  I agree with you about radio; most of the time, I can't stand to listen to any of it.


  10. Yeah, Lisa, in Boston it was WMEX1510. Mel Miller, Melvin X. Melvin, and Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg. In the summer on the Cape, I could pick up New York and hear Murray the K and the Swingin' Soiree.