My site mate Mike Salfino really touched on a subject so near and dear to my heart with his piece on listening to the radio–and pretty much only the radio–during his time in Southern California in the early 70’s, that it really spurred me on to state just how much I love the radio.
Say what you will about cable and streaming and dish and CDs and downloads and instant gratification: I come from time where no one had to walk six miles to school through a driving snow storm. My version of childhood deprivation is that we only had three TV stations in the Sacramento Valley (four in the Bay Area) and as a kid, local radio was AM only.
Since it was the universe in which we lived, we did not think much of it. FM was as odd and obscure as was cable TV, when it was offered at hotels a few years later for an extra charge.
But, whatever you wanted was out there on AM at the time. In Sacramento KROY was the station in the early 60’s, and though I hungered for time in Berkeley–which meant decent bookstores, and extra TV station that showed Dodger/Giants games, and much better radio–with my grandparents while I was too young to move back to the Bay Area, there were some ok things about what I now refer to as “excremento.”
The main was the original Tower Records store, about 3.5 miles from our home, which seemed to make for a formidable bicycle ride for an eight-year old (don’t ask me, no one wore helmets then, bikes had maybe three speeds, and if you wanted to ride your bike to the record store, yay, we were out of the house for three to four hours) in 1960-61.
Tower was a treasure trove, though, with listening booths and stacks of current stuff and oldies, and since part of the deal was to build a record collection, it was not out of the question to buy “The Wa-Watusi” as an oldie, as it was “The End of the World” as a current hit.
It was the radio that was our salvation, bringing the new, and to me the rockin’ and the loudest, inhabiting my every pore and cell so infectiously that I was almost paralyzed when I heard a song that sent me.
At night we could often draw in the cool Bay Area stations–KYA and KEWB–which somehow seemed to waste the local stuff in its sophistication, something I seemed able to discern that early in my years (I was also always drawn to The New Yorker at the Dr.’s office for some reason, and I don’t ever remember anyone suggesting I read it).
At the time–before I realized I had a contrary streak in me–I was also a Dodgers fan in Northern California, and sometimes I could adjust my radio against the evening sky and pull in KFI, 50,000 watts over Los Angeles, and hear Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett anounce my beloved team (sponsored by Farmer John and Union 76).
Before clock radios, and bedroom stereos, though, I would go to sleep, seemingly surgically attached to my transistor which was stashed neatly under my pillow, full volume, so I could hear it through the down feathers upon which my head rested.
Then, magically, as those same stereos and clock radios became more mainstream, so did FM radio, and San Francisco debuted the first free form station–KMPX–started by two ex-KYA jocks, Tom Donahue and Jim Washburn.
Within a year or so there were political issues at KMPX, so Donahue fled and started KSAN, right around the time I moved back to the Bay Area for good in 1972 (that station lasted until around 1983).
Much like listening to my shuffle, though, it was great. I will never forget a set that featured a movement from Swan Lake, Brother Jug by Gene Ammons, Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell, and She Said Yeah by the Stones.
All so different, and yet all so great, and none of it disrupted by commercials or any of that crap.
To this day, listening to radio like that–be it music, or especially baseball which still translates so beautifully via the radio medium–is and will always be my favorite.
I don’t really do Sirius/XM, or even play CD’s much any more.
But, there is something so right and intimate about listening to the radio, hearing a familiar voice describing a 53 ground out, or telling us about a new Jake Bugg tune.
So, I must share the station I have been listening to for almost the last year: KTKE, 101.5 in tiny Truckee, California (population around 10,000).
Truckee is about 40 miles southwest of Reno, and about 20 miles from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, and as we have some property in Soda Springs–about ten miles east of Truckee–I simply discovered the station by accident, surfing through the car radio dial looking for any signs of intelligent programming.
When I found KTKE, though, it was paydirt.
To give an example of the breadth of what they play, here are the last ten tunes they list on the live stream that showed as I write:
- Time to Move On (Tom Petty)
- Further On (Bronze Radio Return)
- Radio Girl (John Hiatt)
- Vaporize (Broken Bells)
- They Told Me (Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside)
- Smile Happy (War)
- Louie Louie (Black Flag)
- I’m Shakin’ (Jack White)
- Sugar Craft (Medeski Martin and Wood)
- When You Were Young (Killers)
I admit, I don’t know Medeski Martin and Wood, nor Bronze Radio Return, and I could do without the Killers, but War, John Hiatt, Black Flag, Jack White, Tom Petty, and Sallie Ford all in the same set?
And, that is pretty much why I gave up tracking the news all day, or simply listening to my shuffle, as I love streaming KTKE, hearing the funky commercials from the Tahoe area (like Smokey’s Cafe and Burger Me) and the great playlist of new and old from really good and personable jocks (whom I also feel like I know).
Mostly, I love this though because I really do love listening to the radio.
I always have, and I hope I always will.