Did you realize that commercial radio got its start on Nov. 2, 1920 when legendary KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcast the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race?
Almost overnight, radio transitioned from domination by ham operators to an actual business with schedules, programming and sponsors.
Now the world has experienced an entire CENTURY peppered with FDR’s “Fireside Chats,” serialized “Captain Midnight” adventures, the original soap operas, traffic and weather reports, Top 40 countdowns, sportscasts (I still remember hearing Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record), catchy advertising jingles, truckdriver-oriented DJs, small-town birthday listings and all the other auditory events that make life worth living.
I was just lucky to be BORN into such an amazing world. In his carefree bachelor days, my father surely considered climbing the radio transmitter tower and hurling himself to his doom after hearing one too many heavy-rotation plays of that early “earworm” song “RaggMopp” by the Ames Brothers (“R-A-G-G M-O-P-P RaggMopp!”) I hope Dad was polite when he told the DJ where he could put his “stacks o’ wax.”
My own connection to radio goes all the way back to my toddler days. I overheard a local radio report of a stranger who was hospitalized after a wreck; I became fixated on him and for the next few years, HE was my imaginary friend. No tiger, no pirate, no dragon. MY imaginary friend was some nondescript fender-bender survivor!
I was stuck in a rut. A few years later, my first FANTASY GIRLFRIEND labored 21 hours a day in the candle factory and would’ve worked more if not for the tuberculosis. (I wonder if her imaginary one-legged kid brother still sells newspapers with a cry of “Wuxtry! Wuxtry! Read all about it!”)
I cherish memories of receiving a transistor radio (about one-third the size of a walkie talkie) for my 12th birthday. It meant portability, control and freedom. But as Janis Joplin sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to buy the replacement BATTERIES with, so I soon went back to listening to the farm futures market on the family radio, like ALL the cool kids.
Dr. Harold Baker (who taught my Radio Production class in college) HATED the corny on-air greeting “Hello, everybody out there in Radio Land!” When an announcer is hitting on all cylinders, radio is magically INTIMATE; each listener gets to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and imagine that the faraway announcer is speaking directly to HIM. (“Why, yes, now that you mention it, I do need gas-reduction tablets, Ramblin’ Rudy. I hope they take effect before this weekend. You ARE coming over to watch Junior’s christening, aren’t you?”)
Commercial radio is capitalism at its best: constant innovation that connects merchants with customers, volunteers with charities and music fans with bountiful tunes. As an old newspaperman, I’m glad radio and newspapers have managed to maintain a friendly rivalry over the years. (I think the impending deathmatch faded when RCA gave up on developing technology to WRAP FISH in a symphony broadcast.)
Maybe the political world will borrow a few tricks from radio contests.
“Be the seventh state to phone in with your electoral votes and the Phrase That Pays: ‘I’m tired of the whole nightmare!’ And what’s the FREQUENCY to remember?”
“Every four years. Every four stinkin’ years. Where are my climbing boots? I’m going up the tower!”