Growing up in New York City in the 1960’s, radio was an important part of everyday life. My brother and I would huddle around our transistor radios, usually Christmas presents from our Uncle Jim another radio junkie. We would listen to The Four Seasons on stations like WABC Music Radio or WMCA home of The Good Guys with deejays like Cousin Brucie and Dandy Dan Ingram and Ron (Hello Luv!) Lundy. I think both those stations are talk radio now, but then they were the place to hear the latest pop songs of the time from artists like The Beach Boys, the Seasons, Jan and Dean, the Dave Clark Five and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Besides music, the news of the world was brought to you, and for the time the news wasn’t all that good, but it also brought you the game from Shea, or the live mayhem of New Years Eve in Times Square. You would walk the streets and see scores of people with their own transistors glued to their ears, listening to what was important to them at that moment. WINS was and still is the all news channel in New York City and when you heard that fake ticker tape sound declaring a breaking news story, you didn’t want to miss it.
But for me, nighttime is the best time for radio (and yes I still listen). When it was ten o’clock and I was snug in my comfortable bed I would reach for the transistor and tune into WOR AM and smile when I heard the unmistakable first chords of the Jean Sheperd show. Now a legend due to being the creator of the perennial holiday classic, A Christmas Story, he was a brilliant writer and radio personality who would weave tales of growing up in Indiana in the shadow of the great steel mills. I would have to stifle my laughter as he told a classic about Ludlow Kissel and the great Fourth of July celebration in town for fear that Mom would hear and come in to tell me to go to sleep. Sometimes today at night in bed, I put in a cassette, yes a cassette and listen to one of his shows and go back. In many ways it was the antithesis of today’s media culture. Radio, good radio demanded an imagination – your own mind showed you how a character you heard speaking looked, or how that rainy street in Los Angeles looked; you invented the visual yourself. Writers do it every day. I owe a lot to radio. Powerful stuff. But I have to do the same thing as when I was a kid, stifle my laughter lest I wake up Les sleeping next to me, and risk having her tell me to go to sleep.
I still have some of those transistors though I don’t listen to them much. I can get a hundred times as many stations on my smart phone. Yet it isn’t the same.