Raised on the Radio

Because growing up on 70s television didn't kill me. It just made me who I am today.


Leave a comment

Memories of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40

When Tiffany sang “you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground,” could I really have pictured a boy and girl tumbling down a hill—like, rolling down it log-style, maybe just before engaging in a potato-sack race?
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to imagine how I sang that song without once stopping to wonder what the boy and the girl did after they “tumbled to the ground.”

I had plenty of other moments of lyrical-content naiveté. I was in my 30s before the words to one of my favorite tunes from the era really hit me. Somehow, Cyndi Lauper’s references to men in tight pants–

But recently I’ve begun to realize there might be someone other than me to blame for the clueless way I interpreted the biggest songs of  my childhood.
Maybe one reason it never occurred to me that Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” was about child abuse was that the person who introduced it to me probably prefaced it with a fun fact about the number of light bulbs in Las “Vega”s.
My hunch has solidified in recent months, as I’ve turned on the car radio on Saturday mornings to be greeted by the most significant of all the voices from my 80s childhood. A local pop station, Mix 96, plays vintage Casey Kasem countdowns, as stations all over the country have been doing.
mix tape
Like many kids of that era, I collected songs by slavishly waiting next to my mini boom-box to hit “record” when Casey (or a local DJ) played my favorite song. But unlike most kids I knew, I had to rely on Casey (and radio in general) for my connection to the pop world. We lived on a farm, and out in the country, getting MTV was out of the question. (Though I doubt my parents would’ve sprung for cable if we could’ve received it. My dad forbid us from watching The Facts of Life because he believed the title was a reference to, you know, the “facts of life.”)
Racing up the stairs to my room after church and Sunday school to catch the Top 10 of Casey’s Top 40 was as much a ritual for me as church itself. As “the numbers got smaller and the hits got bigger,” I’d feel a little pang for any song that had “slipped a couple of notches,” as if the song itself had feelings, as if Whitney Huston or George Michael was sitting by a radio, too, hands clasped, desperate to see where he or she stood.
As the vintage countdowns have become a staple on weekend modern-day radio—and in the utterly surreal experience of re-hearing these childhood moments through adult ears—I’ve been astonished by the diversionary tactics Casey used to draw attention to anything but the actual content of the song. He must have known kids like me were clinging to our Walkmen, and wanted to protect us. (Or Westwood One told him to).
How else to explain the lead-ins I’ve heard when I’ve been relishing these re-broadcasts?
One weekend earlier this year I was driving across the state to visit my sister, and found myself chuckling, alone in my car, as Casey gave a teaser for Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” before the commercial.
Here was one of the first and only popular female rap groups, not to mention one who sung openly about sex. But when the commercial was over? There was Casey: “And now we’re up to a tune that was saved by a deejay.” His spiel detailed how the song was actually the B-side to another song, which a deejay didn’t think was a hit.
Later, to introduce Paul Carrack’s “Don’t Shed a Tear”: no mention of Squeeze or anything about Carrack’s pre-80s success. Instead, “And now we’re up to a song about ‘lacrimation’. It’s not illegal. It means ‘shedding a tear.’”
Now, on Saturday mornings in the kitchen when I tap the I Heart Radio app and tune in to a countdown, I can’t help but focus on the whitewashed way the scripts were written.
Before “Infatuation” by the ever-horny Rod Stewart? A long-winded anecdote about Rod’s manager receiving a pile of Billboard magazines due to a mailing mix-up. On a recent weekend, when it was time for a big hit by Whitesnake, (otherwise known as the band whose video introduced Tawny Kitean to the world), Casey gave a lesson on—you got it—snakes.
I will probably always suffer a metaphorical forehead smack every time I think about Suzanne Vega and Tiffany.
But I should remind myself that when Casey introduced me to “She Bop,” he probably said, “And now we’re up to a song that inspired a New York City woman to choose the name for her cat, a cat named Bop.”

Alison McGaughey was raised on the radio and remembers buying her first “album”–Wham!’s “Make it Big”–on cassette at a Woolworth’s in Keokuk, Iowa. Now a community college instructor and literacy-program coordinator, McGaughey writes about music, books, and Midwestern life at welcometoforgotonia.com. Her work has been published in Creative Nonfiction magazine, Midwestern Gothic, Hippocampus Magazine, and others, and has received awards from the Midwest Writing Center and Illinois Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter @Rural_Rose.


Leave a comment

Memories of Jim Croce, Like Time in a Bottle – Guest post by Meg Hammil

time in a bottle
I think most of us experienced in our youth what I think of as a “Day the Music Died” moment.  We learned about the unexpected death of a performer we admired, and not only did we feel what was for many the first twinges of mortality, but we grasped the bitter truth that even our heroes are not with us forever.
For me that moment was September 1973, 40 years ago this month. I was sitting on a school bus riding to school when I heard a radio announcement that Jim Croce had been killed in a plane crash.
Back in 1973 I was a moody 8th grader just really becoming aware of pop music, but lucky to be witnessing what was probably the greatest era of singer songwriters ever. The first to really catch my ear was Jim Croce.  The first song by him that I like was “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.” I remember how cool and edgy we all thought we were singing a song with “damn” in it.  But I also soon discovered his heartbreaking love songs starting with “Time in a Bottle”.  This is music I have never outgrown my affection for.
Croce’s songs kind of divide themselves into 2 types. There are character studies, usually humorous; “Leroy” of course is the best known, but also Big Jim Walker of “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy”. There are also the working class job songs, like “Working at the Car Wash Blues” and “Top Hat Bar and Grill.” Many of the songs involve someone getting their comeuppance like Jim Walker who learns “its not hustling people strange to you, even if you do have a 2 piece custom-made pool cue,” and Leroy who “Learned a lesson ‘bout messing’ with the wife of a jealous man.”
Then there are the love songs, among the most melancholy ever written, as one can see by the titles alone: “Photographs and Memories”, “One Less Set of Footsteps,” “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way,” “New York’s Not My Home,” and of course “Time In a Bottle.” Certain themes occur again and again. Either the singer has lost his love, or he feels he will soon.  He feels the passage of time is coming between them. “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them” (“Time in a Bottle”)
The very best in my opinion, is “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”.  The story of a broken romance is told through a man’s conversation with the telephone operator. The song is notable for how it tells the story:
“She’s living in LA
With my best old ex friend Ray
A Guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated.”
(So much better than “My woman left me for my best friend”)
He wants the phone number so he can tell the girl that he’s over her, and moving on, but can’t even convince himself, let alone anyone else. Finally in the end he gives up the effort. To me, the last lines of Operator are some of the best ever written:
“Thank you for your time
You’ve been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime.”
The shortness of his life simply adds another layer of melancholy to what is already there. He was only 30 when he died, with a wife and 2-year-old son. When you listen to the few recordings we were lucky enough to get, one can’t help but think, here is a songwriter who was nowhere near his peak. When I listen to his music I always find myself grieving all the untold tales.
Meg Hammil is the mom of two Freshmen (high school and college)  and a book addict who gets all the double Jeopardy questions right. In her spare time she is a 911 operator, where she collects stories she can blog in retirement. Meg posts at  Meg on the Go and can be followed on Facebook  and on Twitter  @TheHachmom and Bloglovin’.


Leave a comment

Thanks For That Magic Yellow Box

Sony_Walkman02

Thanks for That Little Yellow Box

While children and teenagers across the land were secretly reading books by flashlight under the covers, I was covertly listening to the radio. My parents were none the wiser, thanks to a plastic yellow box — the Sony Sports Walkman.

With the Walkman came the ability to listen without creating noise through the stereo. This meant I could lie in the darkness of my room while my parents watched television downstairs. (But don’t tell them. I don’t want to get in trouble.)

The Sony Walkman changed how we listened to music. You could be in a room full of people and individually enjoy your tunes. No one knew if you were rocking out to Henry Rollins or loving on Lionel Richie. The notes were just for you.

At night, the radio became a jungle of new sounds. Nationally syndicated shows, deemed “too mature” for younger audiences, grabbed airtime late at night. The doctors suddenly took over the airwaves — from Dr. Demento to Dr. Ruth. My local college radio station — Siena College’s WVCR 88.3 FM — turned up the heat in the evening, pulling out new songs and obscure artists.

Music isn’t just something I listened to, I devoured it. My ever-present friend whacked me over the head with the punk scene, introduced me to new wave depression and snuck in a random rock ballad once in a while.

I was able to step into a different ecosystem of music and culture thanks to Sony. While friends were bopping to Tiffany, I was hanging with King Crimson. While classmates were swooning over Wham!, I was angry with early U2. Those late night rendezvous with my Walkman radically changed how I viewed the world. It transplanted me from my sleepy suburbia to a thriving urban oasis of sound.

I can’t even imagine how my mind would have been molded without the eye-opening tunes of emerging artists and underground amateurs. So thank you little yellow box. You rocked my world.

Jennifer is the moms of boys, the better half (occasionally), a family cruise director, a short order cook, a techie and always evolving. When she’s not playing house, you can find her at The Jenny EvolutionGeneration iKid and The Sensory Spectrum.


Leave a comment

FirstNotes and ForeverMusic

lizzi guest post ROTR

I was raised in a pretty shut-down household, where the music available was a strict diet of Classic FM (which I now love), Classical CDs (I love some of them), ‘Churchy’ music (still not that keen), and Gilbert and Sullivan (hate it with a passion).

There was one exception (other than the stalwart ‘sung Times Tables’ tapes) – one copy of a hearkening back to my Dad’s childhood; a ‘Hello Children Everywhere’ CD. I listened to it obsessively, whenever I was allowed to use the (gigantic old monster of a) stereo system, in brushed steel, with heavy dials and buttons which swirled deliciously in my hands and would land me in trouble, because somehow the volume always seemed to end up louder.

danny-kaye

So thanks to the lifeline of this one CD, I caught a tiny break and spent my childhood having my mind blown by such wonders as Suzi Miller’s ‘Bimbo’, Burl Ives’ ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ and Danny Kaye’s ‘Little White Duck’.

My musical world exploded into life when I went to secondary school.

I’d chosen a school in a town outside the city, which meant being bussed in with a bunch of other local kids. We were herded onto a scabby old, white mini-bus, with a snarkastic driver who tended to be either overly friendly or overly mean, but the journeys had one HUGE redeeming feature, which quite made them a favourite part of my day. The radio.

Tuned for the first time in my LIFE to something beyond the realms of the classical, 103.2 Power FM gave me my first taste of what I’d been missing, and just what depths of wonder there were to explore. Chaka Demus and Pliers ‘Twist and Shout’, D:Ream ‘Things can only get better’, UB40 ‘(I can’t help) Falling In Love With You’, not to mention Rednex, who I can probably hold fully responsible for my ongoing love of countryish music, since then broadened to include such gorgeousness as Bill Monroe, Rascal Flatts and Blake Shelton

I remember with absolute delight my very first tape.

It was given to me for my birthday by neighbours over the road. It was Robson & Jerome’s version of Unchained Melody, with B sides of ‘I believe’ and ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ (so deeply ingrained in my mind that I didn’t even look it up to check the B sides – I’m probably right, and if not, well it was 18 years ago…). I can’t remember how, but I got a tape player, and discovered, to my delight and awe, that I too, could get Power FM tuned in, directly into my bedroom and began listening at home, ignoring repeated shouts to “Turn that horrible noise down!” as often as I could.

I then discovered (oh sweet day) that a store nearby actually SOLD the music I’d heard on the radio (yes, I was *that* sheltered). My pocket-money immediately became a hugely important deal, and I even began forgoing my weekly Beano comic to buy tapes and tapes…and then I discovered CDs, back when a single was still 99p. To my shame, I can’t remember my first single. Or my first album.

Buying blank tapes and sitting hunched over the radio waiting for my favourite songs to come on, with my finger hovering, poised, over ‘Play’ and ‘Record’ was a massive pastime for me. The irritating DJ or radio jingle forever intertwined with the intro and outro, the missing first three seconds when my attention span had waned.

I developed some serious musical crushes, my ears, mind and soul being touched in ways I’d never felt before – thoughts and emotions expressed in ways I’d never considered possible. I became a cray-cray fan of such acts as Robbie Williams, Alisha’s Attic and All Saints.

And gradually the radio became my companion.

I branched out, finding new stations which weren’t all pop. I discovered rock, house, trance, dance, disco, and later on, music from generations slightly before my own, which is where I feel my musical soul now lives, courtesy of my new-found favourite radio station – 106 Jack FM. They play music from about early in my own musical introduction back to a generation or so before my time, mixed with a few newer tracks for good measure – Aerosmith, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Edmunds, Faith No More, Queen, Reef, ELO, T-Rex, Tommy James and the Shondells …. But even though it’s my favourite, I can’t stay faithful – my car (which is my ‘Radio Place’) has an old-fashioned stereo/tape player, with a different station (yes, including Classic FM – shh!) programmed into each of its five buttons.

(Small Victory – takes a while to get going; if you want to skip straight to the Good Stuff, head to 2:22 for a guitar riff which just *does things* to me)

In spite of that, my musical ‘old soul’ still has to resort to the not-the-radio resource of YouTube to supply such gorgeousness as The Andrews Sisters, The Beach Boys, Elvis, Flanders and Swann; usually with one or two tracks hitting my ‘favourites’ list on YouTube, as opposed to loving everything the band produced, as in the heyday of First Discovering Music.

But it’s not the same. YouTube is cold and clinical, and sometimes highly irritating (although everything’s ‘on tap’). The DJs on Jack FM have become my pals – I know the ins and outs of their public personas. I follow their news. I even follow the station on Twitter and Facebook. I recognize their voices. I dance in my car to their music choices, and I love it.

The world of music has become an outlet – I can use music to describe how I feel far better than I can use words. Music speaks to the soul rather than the intellect, and since my very first introduction, I knew that radio and I would get along, though it’s definitely moved up in status over the years from ‘companion’ to ‘Forever Friend’. Thank you Radio, for giving me so much.

About the Author:

Lizzi Rogers is a non-professional blogger over at Considerings. Her aim is to Think Deeply, Tell Truths and Actively Seek the Good in life. Creator of the weekend-long ‘Ten Things of Thankful’ hop, she blogs about her thoughts, her world and being a member of The Invisible Moms Club. She finds that when she runs out of words, music can be used to speak for her, and if she had to lose four of her five senses, would keep her hearing, for the idea of a world without music would be far too desolate to contemplate.”

You can follow her on Twitter: @LRConsiderer and on Facebook