So apparently yesterday was national radio day. It seems that the greatest invention since fire was not sliced bread, but the wireless communication medium we know as radio. Marconi and his emulators have done well, I’d say.
For my part I like to think of radio as something that has always been my friend. What my friend says to me today isn’t all that different than what he said while I was a boy. He said then and now that I’m here, I won’t go away and when you need me, I’ll be waiting.
As a youth, I was like most who had a little box without pictures that talks. I stood next to my friend listening for the latest hit from Radio City Music Hall, Motown or from Capitol Records. I leapt for joy when my favorite jerry curl sporting group or mullet brandishing hair band released their latest effort at stardom. It was a micro event in my life when Michael Jackson released something “Bad” or Huey Lewis & The News told me that “This Is It”. I tell you I was pleasantly amused when the radio told me that video had committed murder to the radio stars I loved or that what I really wanted was my MTV. I listened with rapt attention when Rick Dees [sic] told me that the weekly top 40 hadn’t moved my favorite hit from the top spot just yet and I was good for another week.
Later, I would sit up all night listening to radio drama from the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. The Shadow, The Inner Sanctum and more recently in my young life “Minds Eye Theatre” who introduced me to Antigone. Yes my radio was my community connection and social water cooler. It told me when Tori Amos was coming to town and when the summer jam was leaving.
Eventually I grew up and my tastes changed. Top forty gave way to adult contemporary. And soon the slumber inducing tones of Kenny G and Grover Washington drifted over my speakers. So I started to drift from FM radio and now looked to AM radio for my entertainment. Late night blustering blowhards and bloviated hate mongers started to round out my world view. The venom they spewed in the guise of humor and catchy songs was the order of the day.
Eventually even that white noise became unnecessary to my late night runs delivering pizza and closing of the burger joints. I yearned for things less pugnacious and more informative. I was gratified to finally learn about the FM dials response to the loudmouths on the AM dial and was pleased to know their reporting of daily happenings need not be so subversive or politically motivated. The talkers I listened to even threw in a few new singers for me to learn about. And in short order I learned that there is a world of music outside of my sea to shining sea existence.
I added British alternative artists to my repertoire and noticed that in time, none of those were played on the channel frequencies I frequented. Soon I learned about A-Mei in Taiwan, Johny Clegg & Savuka from Africa, The Smiths from Manchester Britain, and so much more. I was in heaven. My friend again had found a voice for me to relate to and a song to chirp to. I learned that while television may fill my eyes with fleeting images, the minds eye was forever and indelibly marked by the sounds that only my imagination fueled by noises and voices from all over the world could appreciate.
I have been shaped by radio as surely as any other out-of-home influence can. I am forever grateful to the folk who saw fit to entertain me when they didn’t even know me, educate me when they didn’t know I was lacking knowledge, informed me when they didn’t know I wasn’t aware. They didn’t personally know me, but somehow, magically, and blessedly, they proved year after year and time after time, that in an odd and unexpected way, they actually did. Maybe they knew me better than I knew myself. They knew that I was going to want to know, hear, experience, feel, and do more. That my life in school wasn’t the end but there was “the rest of the story” yet to be heard.
Thank you radio, my old and omnipresent friend. And no, I won’t turn that dial.