It’s a remarkable invention, one that I’ve taken entirely for granted all my life. It’s always there, in the corner, on a kitchen counter, in my car. The radio: reproducing sounds, music and the human voice.
In my early years, radio songs would float around, those such as “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer,” or maybe “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” This would be the early sixties. It was tame, safe, took no chances. I didn’t know rock and roll existed.
I want to say 1967 is when everything changed. We had discovered WRKO in Boston, who played the top forty all day, every day. A lot of Motown, some Beatles, some Doors, some bubble gum. A nice variety. Funny disc jockeys who talked a mile a minute and pushed the envelope, such as the great Dale Dorman.
The trouble with WRKO, though, is that it was/is an AM station, and we all know FM is better. WBZ-FM came in on my bedroom radio, even though it was 100 miles from Boston. For the first time I was hearing not only top forty, but deep album cuts, with NO COMMERCIALS. Once in a while, a cool DJ like Clark or Captain Ken would inject some humor, and that was it. Pure simplicity, and I loved it.
At work, after school in a family restaurant, our food-encrusted radio would pull in WBLM from Maine. Now we’re talking! Deep, deep album cuts, a vast array of unusual artists (hello, Frank Zappa), and not even a nod to the top forty. Commercials, yes, but they were funny and home-grown. It was hard to drag ourselves to the kitchen when “Lucky Man” or some other classic came on.
Time marched on. I graduated high school, took a few years off, and joined the military, ending up in Boston. WRKO was still there, but seemed like an antique piece by then. WBCN on FM was the way to go, with great DJ’s (including Captain Ken) and the best music I’ve ever heard. Pink Floyd, the B-52’s, the Pretenders, and a tsunami of ‘new wave’ musicians.
As the 80’s went by, things changed. I got married. The music got weirder, not better. There was less to listen to, and more to watch (videos on MTV). Bands discovered hair and makeup, costumes and smoke machines. I yawned and dialed in talk radio. I am not proud of this. Some of these people were right wing nutcases and are still poisoning the airwaves to this day.
I can see why people listened, then and now, but I broke free and never looked back.
In the mid-nineties, I made a new and lifelong friend, public radio. Here in New Hampshire, it’s WEVO in Concord, just down the street. News you can trust. Opinions of all sorts. Game shows and Car Talk on weekends. I miss Car Talk. “Don’t drive like my brother.”
WSPS is the station from St. Paul’s School, a prep school with a computer run playlist. I assume humans choose the songs, though, and they’re good. You’ll hear everything from Bluegrass to World Rhythms to Blues, with hardly a peep from a DJ. Like a song but have no idea who it is? Just check the webpage. This is how I found Varttina and others, a gold mine of new music.
As I drive around the state, I sample other stations, but usually stick to the two last mentioned. I still love FM radio, satellite not so much. And the music? “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” still comes on sometimes, but it’s not Andy Williams. It’s the English Beat.