Radio Days: remembering when summer meant listening to jams, good and loud.

June 11, 2013


This past weekend my wife and I went hiking near Point Reyes National seashore, one of many spectacular outings mere miles from our new home in Mill Valley. Anyway, we came across a small beach on Tomales Bay, which was heavily populated by weekend revelers. Families were camped in circles, barbecuing, drinking and listening to the radio.

Listening to the radio. Wow, I thought to myself. There’s a blast from the past…

For a relatively brief period of time, say from 1950 to 1985, before the Sony Walkman ushered in portable and private listening experiences, every teen-ager in America owned a radio. In later years, many of these contraptions were jacked up multi-platform music machines also known as “boom boxes.”

John Cusack let his radio do the talking…

In the summer one couldn’t go anywhere, really, without hearing them. If we were going to “the lake to party” it was always someone’s job to bring the “tunes.” Not that we needed too. Just about every car had music blasting from it. The sounds of summer were a cacophony of Top 40, Disco and Heavy Metal; occasionally a Cub’s game as well but it wasn’t long before Judas Priest would blow the old listener out of his green and white lawn chair.

For rockers in Chicago, the station to listen to was WLUP, otherwise known as “the Loop.” Steve Dahl, the shock jock creator of Chicago’s infamous Disco Demolition was hugely popular.

Chicago shock jock, Steve Dahl

Between offensive patter, Dahl played Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Aerosmith and pink Floyd. Funny how most of these bands still record and tour. Legacy acts now, back then they were Gods.

Going back even further, I remember sleeping over at my best friend’s house, staying up super late, listening to weekend countdowns on WLS Music Radio. We lived for the call-in contests, where if you were such and such numbered caller you’d win a lame tee shirt. The prize wasn’t really the point, however. It was about hearing your self on the radio. If you were lucky they’d let you choose and dedicate the next song. The one time I got through I believe I chose Slow Ride by Foghat.

“Are you ready to take a Slowwww Ride!”

Nostalgia aside, I’ve gone on record stating my disdain for radio as an advertising medium. I’m not changing my tune. Unlike other mass media, for some reason the intrusion of commercials just bothers me more on the radio than anywhere else. Always has. Always will. Only Internet spam reaches similar irritation levels. Thank God for my friend, Skip Intro. Granted, 98% of ads on the radio are awful but even if they weren’t I’d still feel the same way.

A copywriter by trade, I know I’m supposed to relish writing radio commercials. I don’t. Fortunately, briefs for radio ads are as rare as California Condors.

I guess one could say I have a love/hate thing with radio. Like you, I’m delighted NOT to be violated by other people’s music. The Walkman and then MP3 players made the world a lot quieter, at least on the outside. I don’t miss beaches and parks being blasted to bits by Van Halen. Alright, maybe a little…


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