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.