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.
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.