“Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Let’s dance, to the song they’re playin’ on the radio…” – Let’s Dance, by David Bowie (1983). Composers: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman.
With his smooth and cool, Dick Clark-style radio voice, the great Chuck Conway of KRRV/Sherman, Texas said, “Be the 9th caller now for your chance at a large, chilled bottle of Coca-Cola, compliments of KRRV-Sherman.” A wide-eyed, curly-headed kid had been waiting all day for the invitation. One needed to be quick on the draw with the old rotary dial phones. Phone contests for promotions at the medium market station couldn’t afford $1,000 give-aways, or a new car, but offers of Coca-Cola’s new large bottles was a thrill! It was the summer of 1972.
The music-loving kid was always glued to the little shoe-box sized, mono radio sitting on top of the fridge in the kitchen. His single mom worked a third-shift, leaving him dipped in the ways of radio formats. The lad often stayed up to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, then off to his bedroom alarm clock radio. It just fit nicely on the shelf of the bedstead where the boy would fall asleep listening to top 40 hits, or a local late-night talk show out of Dallas. (Yes, a talk-show. What does that tell you about this 11-12 year old kid?) He had his keen ear plastered up against the speakers. Bouncing off his face was the soft amber glow of the tiny bulb behind the frequency dial.
During the summer days, he did house chores while listening to the tunes on the charts. Floating through the air from the AM radio was, “Run To Me” – Bee Gees, “I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash, “My Guy” – Mary Wells and “Betcha By Golly Wow” – Stylistics, just to name a few. Lost in the music, he would dance and sing to the top of his lungs, unless his mom was sleeping during the day. However, it slowed the boy down on the list of chores that needed to be completed by the end of the afternoon. Trouble always followed. Yet, he knew every lyric, the artists, as well as the 3-1/2 hour rotations for each song from the top 10 list. This kid was studying radio without even realizing it. Let’s face it, he was hooked!
The love of radio must have been in his genes. His grandmother used to talk about her days as a child sitting in the living room at night, with the lights off, in front of their RCA floor cabinet-radio. She would talk about dramas, comedies, big bands, preachers and the like. The one person she recalled, that pierced her mind, was hearing FDR’s speeches. She said there was just something about the president’s voice coming through the fabric cover of the speaker. She must have passed the intrigue down to this little guy.
It wasn’t too long when the lad began to spin 45s on his little mono turntable in his bedroom while tape recording himself. He went all-out playing the role of the radio personality while back-announcing and pre-selling the cuts played. Of course, one had to include doing public service announcements , weather, traffic, etc. I am sure he wishes he could find those old mock-radio shows recorded on cassette…I doubt it! At that young age he understood the ability of radio which could take a bored pre-teen, with a huge imagination, and put him in a different place altogether. Theater of the mind can and will take you to a variety of levels on the canvas of the brain. He figured it out right away.
He and his mom were poor. In those days, he didn’t know what FM was. His mom’s car only had AM, just like the two radios at home. Years later, for the first time in his life, when finally he heard FM in his uncle’s car, it was shocking. By today’s standard, it would be like going from a tin-can with a string to an HD theater system.
That was many moons ago. The times are mysteriously foreign to what they are today. We all have to grow up….or do we? Could fantasy turn into reality, even for a poor fatherless kid?
Part of me wants to say I planned my career during those bonding times with the magic of radio, but I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, in my mid 20’s, I made the career change to dive into live radio for a living. Honestly, it was so comfortable, like an old favorite denim shirt. The radio bug still remains after all these decades. Radio continues to be my friend.
After 11 years into my radio career, while at my fourth radio station, I launched a radio theater department at a non-commercial station in Dallas/Ft Worth. I was a playwright, actor and director prior to radio. The idea was pitched to the general manager and off we went like a bottle-rocket. We named it, Criswell Communications Radio Ampitheater. Overall, at last count, I have produced seven audio movies (One produced in Buffalo, NY.), three of which won national and international awards, along with multiple :60 second dramatic scenes for a radio feature series. Now THAT is theater of the mind at its zenith. My grandmother was so proud.
Speaking of theater of the mind, lots of radio listeners imagine the air talent they follow, tends to look a certain way. With the visual gone, radio forces you to paint your own painting. It’s often funny. Right after they meet me, most listeners usually say they thought I sounded blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny. (Question: How does a blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny guy sound?) It seems I’ve burst a few bubbles in my time. They also imagine their favorite radio personality listens to what he/she plays on the air at home or in the car. It may come as a surprise to you, most of us don’t. If you ever flipped burgers for a living, you usually don’t want a burger for dinner. An old friend of mine was a well-known, on-air classic rock personality. At home he listened to Braums, Beethoven and Mozart. Because I was raised to be highly eclectic musically, I have always listened to other formats after I got off the air.
“…FM – no static at all…FM – no static at all…” – FM by: Steely Dan (1978) Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.
Does this happen to you? In recent years I have been playing CDs in my car, as well as in our studio/office at home. I find it clears my head when all the chatter is missing. Sometimes you just have to shut down all the quacking that comes over the speakers. So, for years now I have had my radio off in my down times.
In my last posting, I mentioned the excessive heat our July dished out. Some parked cars registered 127-140 degrees inside. It certainly did some damage to my dashboard CD player. It has malfunctioned and refuses to spit out the CD when I push the eject button. Yet, a great love came to visit when I was forced to power down the CD player. My radio mode was waiting for me, set on a retro AM station I had forgotten about. They were playing power-gold hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Everything was there, Paul McCartney and Wings, Dobie Gray, Three Dog Night and Carly Simon. I felt the splash of sonic fresh waves weaving through the monitors in my car, filling my ears with some precious jewels from dear old friends. I found I missed radio, even with the slightly muffled crackling of AM frequency. LOVE IT! I’m singing at the top of my voice again, dancing the best I can while driving. Who knows, I may buy myself a little hand-held transistor radio for old-time sake.
Isn’t it strange how you can leave something you love so dearly without even realizing the drift that takes you away? It happens in education, relationships, values and your core beliefs. I find it serves me well just to put a keen ear to the ground while listening for the familiar distant sweet spot. Sometimes, just a quick revisit is all it takes to see the scope of lacking. But beware, it takes courage.
By the way, just in case you were wondering…I was Chuck Conway’s 9th caller. It was my first time on the air, and my first, and last time, to ever win anything! My mom drove me about three miles to the tiny studios of KRRV where Mr. Conway sent his studio engineer to the lobby with my bottle of Coke. There are things you just never seem to get over. I had hoped to meet, the blonde, clean-shaven, tall, slim Chuck Conway. But alas, it didn’t happen. He was probably a 300 pound red-head with a beard down to his chest.
So, turn your radio on, using filters that spring up from the pools of fuel for the race.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:15 (NAS)