Tuned In

Long, long ago in a land three hours away from here, a young lady or teenage girl (depending on your point of view) got to work in a radio station. Once a week, Sunday evening, the radio station turned itself over to my high school’s speech club. 

We wrote and produced a radio show. I don’t remember how long the show was, but I remember writing radio plays, announcements and ads, and, rarely, being on air. 

My voice is in a pretty high register. In order to go on air without sounding like a three year old, and hurting the ears of the vast number of listeners on Sunday evenings I had to learn to speak on air. A real, live radio DJ taught me to bring my voice down a register or two. I was never a husky-voiced radio siren, but I did OK.

My dad was a radio appassionatto. During WW II (since he never managed to ship out with his outfit) he ended up a radio operator out by the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. He not only learned to operate radios, but to build them. Once he was out of the Army, on the GI Bill, attending Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT, he was an Amateur Radio operator. This was a time when HAM radio was the only voice in what was often a dark, cold and lonely wilderness. 

Later on in life, my dad got a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio and could listen to radio all over the world. One of my dad’s and my favorite things was to turn on the Trans-Oceanic (in the basement?) and try to listen to Russia. We never succeeded, but what sense would we have made of it, anyway? Most of the time we got Juarez or Tijuana.

“Practice your Spanish, MAK.”

We got a car with a radio in it in 1955, and my dad was constantly tuning to find the best song. Back in the 1950s, there was only AM radio and not many stations, but my dad never gave up. Happy times arrived in 1957 when the push-button car radio made it into our world. My dad steered with his left hand and directed his automotive orchestra with his right.

So do I, much to the fear and annoyance of my passengers. Nothing worse on the road than 3 minutes of music you hate.

Ours was attached to a car…

On long road trips we’d try every local station. Driving at night, he’d try to tune in a certain Texas radio station that broadcast a strong signal. “Leave the radio alone, Bill!” was my Mom’s unavailing refrain. 

Radio where I live now is spotty and random. I tried NOT spending money on SIRIUS and making do, but as with a lot of other things, the San Luis Valley is a radio time warp. Sometimes I might get a decent station from Salida (1 1/2 hours to the north) or Taos (an hour to the south). There’s a station in Alamosa that’s pretty good, but it has to be everything to everybody. There’s Public Broadcasting from Taos (I think) but reception is spotty. There’s a Top 40ish station that makes my teeth itch and none of these come in clearly. 

I realized satellite radio is a quality of life issue for me, not only because my driving style depends on it (one hand on the wheel, one hand on the buttons), but because I think that the car radio is an oracle. More than once I’ve gotten in the car, turned on the engine and BAM the song that comes up is exactly the one I need to hear, answering a deep question or soothing frayed nerves. 

Back in California, at the end of my time there, when I desperately wanted out and feared I would never escape, if I heard The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” on my way to school, I thought, “Shit, I’m trapped.” Now when I hear it, I say, “Ha ha, fooled you!” and turn it up in defiance.

Last year, driving over La Veta Pass on my brother’s birthday, I heard both of “his” songs (“Fool on the Hill” by the Beatles and “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails). There’s a long list of “signs” (William S. Burroughs said, “There are no coincidences.”) If I hear my “anthem” (“Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush) I feel that nothing can defeat me. I realize this might sound to you like a kind of psychosis, but it’s not that serious.

Or is it? There’s a lot of truth to Warren Zevon’s song. And yeah, I’ve heard it on the radio.


29 thoughts on “Tuned In

  1. Gosh, do people still listen to the radio any more…?

    “I heard it, I heard it, I heard it on the X….”

    “Video killed the radio star.” (Not this one, bucko!)

    In other news: I love your dad 🙂

  2. Speaking of HAM radios I love the part in the film Contact where the main character Ellie has found her father dead and later tried to contact him on their CB radio. It’s so poignant. I’m a BBC radio 4 fan. It’s all speech radio with dramas and documentaries. I guess it would be available as podcasts?

  3. When I first heard “Mohammad’s Radio” it was a cover by Linda Rondstadt.

    I grew up in what was a pretty flat area. Radio signals can travel a long way with nothing to obstruct them. I loved to hike out to the middle of nowhere with my handy transistor radio and listen to Tiger Baseball. A mile from anyone else and yet still connected to the world, however tenuously

  4. “All we hear is radio goo-goo, radio ga-ga… Radio it’s true, someone still loves you” RIP Freddie!

    We are fortunate here in Nashville to have an AWESOME local independent station called Lightning 100. They have an online broadcast you should really check out, Martha. It’s at http://lightning100.com/ and apart from NPR is just about the only station I listen to when I’m not listening to an audiobook.

    I know you don’t read a lot anymore, Martha, but I have to let you know about a really good novel about the Reformation I’m enjoying right now called Q by Luther Blissett. You should check out the synopsis on Goodreads.

  5. We too live in a radio void. We have Sirius, but they are sure we don’t and keep asking me to buy. I ignore them since I’m pretty sure they don’t know we are fully connected. But you know, in this valley, even Sirius gets blocked out by the hills and valleys.

    I met Garry at the college radio station. Also my first husband, Jeff. And Tom. Actually, I didn’t go to college. I went to the radio station. I think I also married it.

  6. Radio is a huge part of my life. For years we didn’t have tv, by choice. CBC Radio is our choice station. My husband is an audiophile and old radio collector, anything with tubes! I think he and your Dad would have had lots to talk about.

    • I think they would, too. I hang onto this Trans-Oceanic even though it doesn’t work, it weighs a ton and takes up space because when I pull it out, open it up and smell it, I go back in time to a very happy place where my dad was alive and we were having a small adventure trying to tune in to Moscow. The radio might not get radio signals any more, but the signals it CAN bring in mean the world to me. ❤

  7. I couldn’t hear/compute all the lyrics to the Warren Zevon song. And those I did hear I’ve forgotten already. My attention wanders too much. But it leaves me with a country boy, squandered dreams kind of feeling. I’ll go look up the lyrics and see how close I got. Sometimes I think there are songs that reflect the vibe of the times.

    Your friend, Dangerspouse, cracks me up.

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