WOSTER: Remembering radio in the old days
I bought a new pickup not long ago, and while it has satellite radio with something like 1,700 channels, I might as well have an AM receiver tuned to KOMA in Oklahoma City.
I’m not knocking satellite radio. It’s great. It offers so many choices a person scarcely knows what to dial in next. If that weren’t enough, the vehicle came with onboard Wi-Fi. If I wished, I could stream a bunch of music from anywhere in the world, if I knew what streaming is.
I grew up in an era of three television channels (four after public broadcasting came to my TV set) and three, maybe four, reachable radio stations that delivered music and news on a fairly regular basis, allowing for weather and other factors that might drive the static level above the volume of the programs. For me, then — and this is only my unique wiring — a radio with one or two stations is plenty.
(People laugh when they ask if I’ve heard a particular song or artist and I tell them I don’t listen to music I haven’t heard before. They think I’m kidding. My spouse, who knows me best, just shakes her head and smiles.)
Thousands of channels are wasted on me. The Wi-Fi feature was great when we drove to Denver with three young people in the back seat. The whole time we were on the highway, they were streaming whatever people stream with a smartphone and a set of earbuds. But when the three free-trial “Gs’’ played out, I let the subscription lapse. I didn’t learn what a “G’’ is, either.
I’m keeping the satellite subscription, because I really enjoy the 50’s and 60’s channels. Now and then I tune in the Beatles or the Grateful Dead, but mostly it’s 50s and 60s. I hear the same songs by the same artists I heard when I was a teen-ager listening to KOMA AM (1520 on your dial, 50,000 watts of power from Oklahoma City). The only things today’s channels lack are the goofy jingles and wacky jokes from the old KOMA.
A while back, Suzy Bogguss did a song (OK, once in a rare while I listen to something I haven’t heard before) called “Goodnight.’’ Its lyrics include this line “Live from high atop the hood of my car, I’m signing off, sweet dreams, baby, wherever you are.’’ Anybody close to my generation recalls vividly those countless evenings when they sprawled on the hood of their folks’ car, leaning back against the windshield and dreaming as the stars winked and Don McGregor or one of the other DJs played the Top 40 tunes.
I don’t know how far KOMA reached in those days, but from dusk to the middle of the night it was the one dependable station on the AM dial out where I lived. Kids who grew up in the big cities like Minneapolis or Fargo or Sioux Falls probably had local stations and local DJs. Out on the prairie, all across the plains, my generation shared KOMA. Like a good buddy, it joined us in a vacant lot or down by the river as we hung out, alone or with friends, while the best music in the world drifted through the open windows of the car from the puny speaker of that under-powered radio in the dash.
We grew up with the station. Like a best friend, it always seemed to know exactly how we were feeling. There’s no better pal in the world than someone who will sit with you for hours on a crisp, cloudless South Dakota night while you lose yourself in emotions too new and real to share with anyone. I’m convinced the man in the moon was first seen by a lovestruck teenager.
And somehow the DJs back then knew how to touch those deepest emotions. Sad? So are Conway Twitty and Skeeter Davis. Happy? Chuck Berry and Gene Vincent have you covered, man. Head over heels in love? Jack Scott and Sam Cooke have been there, too
I’m too old, I guess, to know how that experience is possible with a thousand channels and a set of earbuds.