Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I can't imagine my life without radio.
Earliest memory of radio: Our local station, WNWI (call letters stand for Northwest Indiana) in Valparaiso, Indiana, broadcast during daylight hours when I was small. My parents often played the radio before dinner back then. We lived in a new development on the very edge of town, with few trees and few lights. I could always see the radio transmitter tower's red blinking light at night. I remember feeling scared when they would play the sign off music around 6pm (I'm remembering two tunes: "Sunrise, Sunset" and a somber piano version of "Mack the Knife") because if no one turned off the radio, the music would end and then there would be... silence. How do little children know to be afraid of the void like that?
One of the programs was "Swap Shop" where people would call in to the host, "Gidget", and advertise items they wanted to buy or sell.
Pop music finds me: When I was 9, I began taking the school bus and our driver would listen to WLS 89 AM from Chicago (call letters stood for "World's Largest Store," i.e., Sears). They had a phenomenally strong signal (I've caught them as far west as South Dakota). This was after the Barn Dance days and they played the top pop music all day and night. There was a lot of Elton John (meh, even though those were his best days), and lots of other things. We didn't listen to radio at home or in the car (could our parents have wanted peace and quiet?) I set up a tape recorder in front of a transistor radio and put a sign on my bedroom door so I could record my favorite songs when they came on the air. (I think this counts as piracy, but the sound quality was truly awful, especially when the 9V battery in the radio wore down.)
Country lovin': For a while in junior high, I listened to a lot of country music, always on Valparaiso's WLJE (the call letters stood for the station's owner, Leonard J. Ellis). "Uncle Len" was the morning DJ and did the show live, playing his "scratchy old records" and saying things like, "It's a brass monkey morning!" on really cold days. I learned that country music followed predictable formulas of rhyme and and melody, and discovered that I could harmonize along with it on my violin. That's when I first began to value being able to play music by ear.
NPR - I find love. In high school, I discovered National Public Radio in the form of WBEZ in Chicago. (Call letters stand for Board of Education, and it was still owned by them then. Started life as an educational service to children kept home from school with polio. Honest.) There are three programs I remember:
- Présences Françaises was my first exposure to big swathes of French, which I'd just begun learning. Awesome. I taped all I could.
- A radio dramatization of Star Wars with most of the original cast.
- A funky new series from Britain: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I was besotted.
- Finally being old enough to have my own money and pledge to NPR
- Shortwave radio
- Radio Canada
- Canadian Armed Forces radio from Baden-Baden
- Auditioning for a job as a student announcer at the radio station at college
- The Archers
- Producing my own weekly radio show about Celtic music (in French) for a volunteer radio station in Villefranche-sur-Saône
- Old-time radio like Jack Benny and The Shadow
- Getting interviewed (in Irish) for Raidió na Gaeltachta
- Having a radio in every room of the house.
Happy World Radio Day!