Still Radio

I sat down at my computer early one morning when this came in that twilight between sleep and wakefulness. It has been polished a little in the days since.

I wrote my first story for a radio newscast in the fall of 1962 and I voiced my first newscast at 11:55 p.m. in January or February of 1963. I had been taught by, among others, a professor who is in the Missouri Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, Dr. Edward C. Lambert, the founder of the broadcast journalism sequence at the University of Missouri. My first station manager is in the Hall of Fame, Mahlon Aldridge, of KFRU in Columbia. I was introduced for the newscast by an announcer who is a member of the Hall of Fame, Ray Rouse. Sometimes at my first station I filled in on sportscasts for Larry Zimmer, whose long career as announcer for the Colorado Buffalos and Denver Broncos football games put him in the Colorado equivalent of the MBA Hall.

For eleven years I was a voice in Columbia, then Jefferson City and for more than forty years I have been a voice throughout a state and at times a voice in other parts of the nation and the world, the supervisor and then an employee of another member of the Hall of Fame, Clyde Lear.  Even today, retired from the daily pressure cooker of a radio newsroom, I remain a participant in the medium, a contributing editor to The Missourinet. The two stations where I learned that radio would be my life are now just two formats in a building in Columbia. One of those stations used to operate in Jefferson City but is now just another property in a mega-radio conglomerate.

I have one of the great old upright radios in the library in my basement.  I turned it on once many years ago just after I got it and have not turned it on since because what comes out of it today does not go with that radio. I despair sometimes for the medium and I fear for our nation when the federal body regulating broadcasting continues to move to kill the diversity of voices in our communities in television as well as in radio.

There once was magic in the boxes that can pull ghosts out of the sky (as the play “Voice of the Prairie” puts it) and there still is, but in too few places.  Let us hope for a re-birth, somehow, of that magic.

 

I am Radio

I am the voice in the morning

In cities large and small,

In the country, high and low,

Telling you to dress for hot or cold, wet or dry.

I am the voice that is the neighbor you cannot see,

The friend you never meet,

Telling you important things:

Where the traffic is,

Where the detours are,

What the city council did,

What the school board intends,

When the civic club peanut sale is.

What the hot lunch is at school

Or the senior center.

I am the one you take to the basement

when the tornado sirens blow,

the trusted,

always present voice,

the voice of danger and of safety.

I am radio.

I am the one that tells you

What the high school team did last night,

What the major league team did;

The NFL, NHL, the NBA did.

I tell you the about the world—

What’s happening inside the beltway,

In space over our heads,

Across the Atlantic,

Along the Pacific Rim,

The Mediterranean coast,

In the sands of deserts

the damps of the tropical forests,

and your own back yard.

I am radio,

the image-maker

The words and the sounds

That let you see in your own mind

places and events—

the green of a diamond

and the white of its base paths,

The soaring arc of the ball headed for the crowd,

The hardwood floor,

the net that snaps as the ball goes through,

The chilly grass marked by yard lines,

the sounds of struggle and impact

and movement left to right on the dial.

I am the sound of sharpened metal on ice,

The crack of the puck off the stick.

As well as the rattle of gunfire in a besieged city,

Grief and joy,

The maraschino cherry

landing on a mountain of whipped cream

floating in a Lake Michigan filled with hot chocolate.

I am radio.

I am direction.

I am “Down the stretch they come!”

The market is up.

The politician who reaches across the aisle.

I am mathematics.

“40, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown!”

I am drama.

“Yesssss!” and “He SCORES!!!”

I am “Suspense,”

And “Inner Sanctum”

And warnings of war.

I am the voice of democracy and decency,

The voices of your town

Preaching the message

Sharing recipes,

Selling things on the trading post

Expressing opinions.

I am your voice.

I am radio

I am the past.

The Harding-Cox election returns,

Vincent Lopez

The A&P Gypsies

The velvet voice of Vaughn DeLeath

Paul Whiteman

Amos & Andy,

Lum ‘n’ Abner,

Fibber and Molly.

I am Charlie, the ventriloquist’s friend.

I am horror.

“Oh, the Humanity!”

Or “Now is a good time to switch off the radio,

for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.”

“President Kennedy is dead.”

And I am hope:

“The only thing we have to fear,

is fear itself.”

“I have a dream.”

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind.”

I was born of a desire to bring

The city to the country.

I remain the voice of the farmer,

The teller of market prices,

The forecaster of crops.

I am the Dow Jones numbers,

The reporter of prosperity

And collapse,

Of city crime

And rural struggle.

I am radio.

I am imagination.

Lake Woebegone, Minnesota,

where it’s always a quiet week.

Pine Ridge, Arkansas,

where the Jot ‘em Down Store was the place to be.

Grinder’s Switch,

where there was a lady greeter who said,

“How-DEEE!”

Metropolis, Gotham, Summerfield,

Rushville Center, Town Hall Tonight,

and a Dodge City that never was.

My places and my people are what your mind

Shows you they are.

I am heroes—

The Lone Ranger

The Green Hornet

The correspondent under fire

on the front line,

The reporter who will not be intimidated

in the political arena.

I am the villain—

The demagogue and the dictator

The manipulator and the huckster

Selling snake oil

In potions and politics.

Goat glands, Sal Hepatica and Ipana

Healing cloths and Hadacol,

Simple solutions

To complex world problems.

I am radio.

In places I am homogenized,

No longer OF a community,

but just IN a community,

not a station,

but just another format

in a building full of formats.

Some say I lost my soul when

towns became “Markets, “

When stations became only “properties,”

and when the neighbors on the air

talking to us about us

became strangers on the satellite

talking of division and distrust.

When corporate profits

Snuffed out community service

And killed the diversity of voices.

And in too many places, they are correct.

But in some places my heart remains strong,

There, I am still your neighbor,

Still the one who tells you the weather,

Let’s you hear the high school games,

Who tells you of the council, the school board,

The county fair, and the peanut sale.

I have been written off,

Pronounced dead,

Outmoded,

Old-fashioned,

Immaterial,

Uncompetitive,

Low-tech.

But I have not gone away.

I have not died.

I have reinvented,

Reinvigorated,

Restored myself.

Who knows what I am to become?

I remain

The voice in your bedroom,

information in your bathroom,

news at your breakfast table,

a companion in your car.

From midnight to midnight.

I remain.

I am radio.

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