When Radio Was A Thing

courtesy Joe Haupt Wikipedia

I am sure you grew up listening to the radio. The day you received that first transistor radio was a big deal. There was probably one station that you called your favorite. You knew the DJ’s names and what made them fun to listen to. Maybe one of them even showed up at your school to host a sock hop; that was a big deal.

There were some hit songs you just couldn’t hear often enough. When you got your driver’s license, one of the buttons on the radio became yours: no one touched your station. When a favorite song started, the instinct was to crank up the volume and sing along at the top of your lungs.

It is no surprise that this relationship with a radio station doesn’t exist anymore. Oh sure, there may be a person hosting a talk show that you make an effort to hear. But, the days of DJs and music are gone. Just like streaming video channels are rapidly replacing cable TV and even movie theaters, streaming music services are the go-to choice. No commercials, no chatter from a fast-talking announcer, nothing that interrupts the constant flow of music. Spotify, Prime Music, Pandora…take your pick. They all provide instant access to millions of songs when you want to listen.

I miss the days when radio announcers were an exciting addition to the music-listening experience. Today, a DJ talking over the beginning of a song, stopped just a split second before the vocal part begins, is irritating (and almost never heard). 

For me, being able to do that was a point of professional pride. I would practice for hours to make sure I could deliver a rapid-fire patter of promotion or simply energy and song identification, stopping within a half-second of what was known as “stepping on the vocal.” Still talking while the artist or group started the lyrics upset listeners, but also marked the announcer as not up to professional standards. 

I will admit that I still practice that “skill” in a car. The local oldies station is mostly announcer-free. So, as I am rolling down the highway, rocking out to The Stones or BTO, I will “talk up” the song, and give myself a fist pump if I “hit the post,” or stop when the singing starts. Silly? Yes. Irritating to Betty? No, she is used to it. I will say that if the grandkids are in the car, they think old Grandad is a little odd.

I also believe radio lost a big chunk of its influence when it was no longer local. I am not spilling a big secret if I tell you that for stations that still have announcers at all, virtually all of them are located in some major city, far removed from where their voice originates on a local radio station. 

Their “show” is actually just them recording their talk segments. Then, those are inserted into the music programming for that hour by computer and eventually delivered to the local station by satellite or Internet. “Local” radio is local the way the Burger King down the street is “local.”  All the possibilities for a true personality, talking about a local issue or problem are gone. The DJ is polished and professional, but she or he will never be at your school mixer. They are now faceless voices.

Jethro Tull

It was quite a kick for a 21 or 22-year-old guy to introduce a major rock act in front of a concert venue of 2,000 screaming fans. 

Spending time with the likes of Rod Stewart, Jethro Tull, or Bob Seger before and after the show was exhilarating. Being asked for an autograph, being featured on the weekly music survey available at local record stores (remember those?), and being a minor, local celebrity was a real kick. Of course, eventually, I grew up and decided to earn my living in another area of broadcasting. But, while it lasted, it was a hoot. No great surprise, it fed my ego and made me feel like a success.

Bob Seger & his band

That experience is gone. If some teen or young adult says he or she wants to be a DJ, they mean the type who mixes music on a stage in front of a 1,000 writhing dancers, not the voice on a radio. I am not sure anyone under 35 even connects the term DJ with what comes out of a speaker.

Music remains an important part of my life, even if I am not being paid to play it. Today, Spotify fills my need to hear music from my past and what is popular today. I listen to oldies, all sorts of curated playlists, a carefully selected (by Spotify) of the best of new pop, rock, instrumental, and even classical recordings. 

During Covid, I bought a turntable, found some old vinyl LPs, bought more at a local vintage store, and have discovered the joys of music on large, black, platters again. Having to flip over the album every 15 minutes or so keeps me from dozing off!

I got rid of hundreds of CDs a year or so ago. Everything on them is on Spotify with instant access and better sound. Cassettes? Not for 20 years.

So, much like the post about the streaming video services you choose, what about music? Spotify is my favorite, but I also have the free versions of Pandora and Prime music that I spend some time with. What service do you depend upon?

Do you have CDs that remain important to you? Any vinyl album users among us? Cassettes, 8-tracks? 

And, in a question that interests me on a very personal level, what part do radio stations still play in your life? Do you miss the chatter and local touch, or was that always something you could have lived without.

You won’t hurt my feelings with whatever your response might be. Frankly, I rarely listen to a real radio station much anymore, except in the car. But, I am interested whether you remember and miss those days of Wolfman Jack or your local DJ star.  At one point in your life was that important?

Thanks for sharing. Now, I must go and practice my ability to still hit the post and not step on the vocal.  

Some things never change.

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