The Rewards Of Radio

When I was a child, we had a radio, AM only, an old Stromberg/Carlson with a large crack in the top of its one-piece Bakelite plastic case.  It had a loose connection, and sometimes stuttered or cut out.  A good whack on the top usually got it going again, but obviously someone had been a little too enthusiastic with a thump.  It had a copper wire which ran out a window to a steel stake in the ground, to use the earth as an assistant receiver.  We even paid a “radio licence fee” for several years, for the right to listen to free, open broadcasts.

Since my father was a part-time entertainer, he listened to it a lot, to hear songs he could use in his once-a-week act.  Later, we got a better radio/record player combo, and I heard much Big-Band sounds, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, The Ames Brothers, and soundtracks from musicals.  As the Fifties wore on, Rock-and Roll replaced Swing.  Dad listened to radio less, and I listened to it more.  By the time I got married in 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, we owned a radio which was turned on as soon as someone reached the living-room in the morning, and didn’t get turned off till we watched TV, or went to bed.

I didn’t “listen” to radio, so much as absorb it.  Hear the same song by the same artist a thousand times, and I could soon “Name That Tune” in two notes.  Radio stations began running phone-in contests, to prove to advertisers how many people listened to them.  Finally, my head full of useless trivia became useful.

Actually, the wife was the first one in the family to win something from a radio station.  Pre-Tim Horton’s, a local small doughnut chain offered a dozen high-quality doughnuts to the first person to tell how they were invented….and we were off.  As addicted listeners, we were often able to take a shot at a radio contest.  Sometimes you had to be the correct-number caller, but if we got through, we usually had the right answer.

A brash young DJ came to town, and started on the over-night show.  I often called him at the station, to alleviate his, and my, boredom.  I was the one who called him to show where the mistake in Billy Joel’s song, You’re Only Human, was.  The first Friday night I let my son accompany me on my security job, the young DJ jokingly held a “Guess The DJ’s Lunch” contest, at three in the morning.  My son’s phone-in stab wasn’t even close, but it was amusing enough to get us the chance to meet him in person, for a restaurant breakfast in the morning.  We showed up at a store-opening remote broadcast, and he named us on-air, and described us as “the two-man motorcycle gang.”

The local station was supposed to have run a series of give-aways of tickets for the premier showing of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, Commando, but forgot to schedule it.  On the Friday afternoon, they suddenly revealed on-air that they had 20 four-packs, for the first people who showed up at the station.  My motorcycle zipped me downtown, and parked easily, while I ran upstairs.  The four of us got to see Arnie mash, crash and bash.

 I was mowing the grass in the backyard one afternoon, when I saw the son hanging out the French door, with the phone to his ear with one hand, and waving frantically to me with the other.  The radio station was offering free tickets to the Michael Keaton, Batman movie, to anyone who knew where Bill Cosby went to university.  The son didn’t know, but he immediately dialled, because, as a Cosby and comedy fan, he knew that I knew, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.  I never stopped cutting grass as he won a night out for us.

As interested in music and radio as I am, the son attended a broadcast-arts course at the local community college, just in time to see automation and syndication scuttle his chances for work in the industry.  He doesn’t even remember what the contest was about, but does remember calling the local Pop AM station one day, and winning a VHS tape, and 12-inch action figure (It’s not a doll.  It’s for boys.) of the kids’ movie, “Indian In The Cupboard.”  Not age-specific for him, he turned them over to his appreciative nephew.

I called in and won an evening for four at a newly opened water-park on the edge of town.  That semi-conscious music osmosis came in handy again, although the question wasn’t really that hard.  The guy who won his four-pack the day before I did, said that the song they referred to had the phrase, “Sorry Baby” in it about ten-thousand times, so that’s what he guessed.

After contaminated water killed 7 people in Walkerton, ON, a benefit concert called Watershed was organized to help survivors, and raise awareness.  On the fourth and last year it was held, I managed to win two tickets, and drove the son 75 miles, to roast in a ball park for an all-day show.  There were a total of 11 acts, the third last of which was Teri Clark, a well-known female Canadian Country singer.  She was followed by Joe Cocker, who was older than I was, but pumped out more energy than I ever could.  We wormed our way right up front to see Joe.  The finale act was the great Canadian rock band, The Guess Who, who made an afternoon of sunburn well worthwhile.

As my grumpy-old-dudeness ossifies, I understand why my Dad turned off his radio in his later years.  “They haven’t written a decent song since before Disco!!”  “What’s Disco Grandpa??”  I used to haunt the second-hand record, and then CD stores.  “Have you ever heard of the Greg Kihn Band?”  Now, what little music I listen to is available for download from the net.  Excuse me; I have to turn my hearing aid….ah, Assistors, up.

13 thoughts on “The Rewards Of Radio

  1. 1jaded1 says:

    Hi Archon. The Greg Khin Band…This post brings back memories. I love radio. My current dwelling only picks up Spanish stations, so I can’t understand what is being played. My grandparents listened to Swing and Big Band. Many of my cousins were bored, but I was entranced.

    I remember begging dad to put on anything but Oldies (50s music) while he was listening to Oldies…what they would now call classic rock…you can’t even hear Oldies on the radio, and I miss that. Not too long ago, I heard a song by GnR on a classic rock station, and felt old, until I heard it on my if it rocks, we play it, then not so much.

    Today, I listen to hard rock and rap…tomorrow, whatever is raw. I joke with my nieces and nephews that they will never keep up with me, even when I’m 80.
    I love radio.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Glad I could bring back some feel-good memories. I used the “Greg Kihn” reference as the vaguest, least-known band in the world, but I’m not surprised that at least one reader remembers them. I don’t. I had to Google the correct spelling. I should go to Youtube. That would probably spark a recall. No habla Espanol, but, as I do, I guess you can download what you want and make a playlist for computer or I-Pod. CDs still rock. 🙂


  2. aFrankAngle says:

    A quick radio give-a-way story. A station was awarding an album to the 7th caller …. I was the first and third caller …. so I paused for a bit … and then was the seventh. I didn’t win a Greg Kihn Band album, but I do have one.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Another Greg Kihn follower??! 😕 It’s a conspiracy! Touch-tone phones used to beat dials, and then speed-dial beat even push-buttons. Those were reasons that they introduced number-caller winners. Whose album did you win? It must have been someone you felt strongly enough to call in three times for, and not just Celine Dion’s cousin. 🙂


      • aFrankAngle says:

        I can’t recall the album title … well, I think it may have been a jazz album, but that was long ago. I wonder if I looked through my vinyls if the name would come forth as that album?


  3. BrainRants says:

    I’m a fan of big band, swing and early rock. Radio is still a great media.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Son says he likes music from ten to fifteen years before he was born. Seems like you go back even a little farther than that. Radio has changed a lot, especially over the last 10 to 20 years, but you can still find some nice stuff to listen to, no matter what you like. Keep listening.


  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Liked your post, Archon! I can remember me and my best friend trying like hell to be the 10th caller and win something on the radio! I’m pretty sure we NEVER won anything! (ever)
    I could not live without music (rock). I have a beat up old radio that has a clothes hanger antenna and I’m not getting rid of it..


    • Archon's Den says:

      But it was fun trying, wasn’t it? I thought Rock would live forever, but it’s getting harder and harder to find. R&R was a protest, about parents, teachers, politics, war, sexism. Today’s Pop music sounds like they’re peeved because their Guccis are scuffed, and I’m never, never, never, ever going to listen to it! 🙂


  5. Jim Wheeler says:

    Very nice memoir, Archon. While I seem to be about a decade older than you, I too hold fond memories of radio’s era. I recall my grandparents’ big console with its ever-so-technical dial and its magic green tuning eye occupying a prominent place in their living room. I recall too our own table model, listening at night to the Inner Sanctum, Mister District Attorney, and other marvels, its glow nothing less than magical. Our Miss Brooks, Jack Benny, Dragnet, Charlie McCarthy.

    All this is a potent reminder of just how young and evolving is human culture. Young people have no idea, really, of just how new technology is, and none of us, I submit, knows what it will ultimately become. Uncharted territory.


  6. benzeknees says:

    I won a transistor radio from our local radio station as a pre-teen & thought it was the biggest deal. My nephew studied broadcasting & still works as a radio DJ part time because he can’t afford to do it full time on what they pay.


  7. Archon's Den says:

    We still have a little transistor radio, half the size of a hard-cover book, from before we were married. I should put a 9-volt in it to see if it still works, although all the decent stations are FM now. Only “stars” make any money in radio anymore. The rest are paid shit, or replaced by computers. Remember the end of American Graffiti? 😕


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