‘Radio, Radio’

“Wonderful radio,

Marvelous radio,

Wonderful radio,

Radio, radio . . .”

—Elvis Costello

When I was a kid I had a black transistor radio about the size of my hand that I would take to bed and listen to until I fell asleep. My stations across the dial played rock ‘n roll. Down the hall, my father usually turned in early on weekdays when he worked the next day and he would listen to a news station or talk radio in the ’60s and early ’70s, when Jerry Williams on WBZ in Boston was pounding on the U.S. government to stop the war in Vietnam.  For years, I listened to J. C.’s Golden Oldies show on Lowell radio. I’ve always listened to the radio. My parents had a large wooden cabinet combination radio and record player in our living room in the small ranch house I grew up in at the end of Hildreth Street in Dracut. Tuning the radio was like manipulating instruments in the cockpit of a plane. I always used that radio when the Boston music stations did the countdown of the best songs of the year. My father would say radio is the biggest technological miracle. Imagine, all those signals in the air flying past us and ready to be picked up any second. For him, TV was just a souped-up version of radio. At night I listen to New Hampshire Public Radio from Nashua, 88.3 FM, which has a good line-up of programs, including the BBC overnight. On weekends, you can hear Prairie Home Companion and American Routes with Nick Spitzer (think Lowell Folk Festival music) on NHPR.

In the past year I’ve made several round-trips to Syracuse University, where my son is a student, a ten-hour ride that has given me a chance to listen to radio stations from Boston to Buffalo. It really is extraordinary as an ear to the nation’s door. From National Public Radio on the low-end of the FM dial to the jazz station in Hartford, Conn., from country stations in the Hudson River Valley to classical outlets in the Pioneer Valley of Mass., from classic rock in Utica, N.Y., to all-sports radio booming out of Manhattan—from  syndicated BBC news reports to ads for Ray Suarez’s show coming up on Al Jazeera Radio, from trashy shock-jocks yukking it up over the jokes at the Golden Globes awards to in-depth discussions about the war in Syria and Governor Cuomo’s plan for regional consolidation of municipal services in the Empire State. It’s a smorgasbord of content feeding into the car’s antennae. And it’s about listening.  Not talking. Not interacting, unless you want to yell at the broadcaster or sing along with a star. There’s something contemplative about just taking it in on a long drive. Soaking it up.

2 Responses to ‘Radio, Radio’

  1. kosta says:

    years ago, I used to take the same route – driving across upstate NY to Cornell U in Ithaca. Yes, radio would keep me company , maybe the same (similar) stations. Happy to hear of long-distance driving radio still alive.

  2. Rich Hancock says:

    It’s good to read that some of my friends share my fondness for radio, in spite of the fact that it has been sanitized, corporatized and co-opted by so many as a tool to distort and confuse listeners on critical issues of the day.
    Jerry Williams was a guy who gave me a lot to think about . As a kid, I would ride with my Dad and watch him react, positively or negatively, to Jerry’s singular style of diatribe– and remember the passionate response it inspired in my father.
    I’m sure that had something to do with my love of talk radio, and my subsequent career choices in the field. When I began working at WLLH in Lowell as an advertising specialist, the best thing about the job was occasionally contributing to Paul Sullivan’s “Morning Magazine” as a voice character. When then-City Manager Dick Johnson asked me to co-host “Ask the Manager” a few times, I would look forward to it all week.
    Sitting in as a guest host for my friend Bill O’Neill on WCAP was a treat, and when an opening presented itself on the weekday morning show, I got the chance to take my dream job as part of the Dunn and Hancock Show.
    In the thirty years since, radio has changed so dramatically (satellite, subscription, podcast and internet-based radio programming) that it hardly resembles the radio of the past. What radio continues to be, gratefully, is a wonderful manifestation of the theater of the mind– whether it’s political talk, Prairie Home Companion, Radio Lab, This American Life, or your local “morning zoo” music jock– and as long as we wish to be entertained while we drive, there will be radio!