I got a brand new FM/AM console radio for Christmas. That may not sound very exciting to you but for me it was life changing. You see the year was 1969 and if I tuned my dial to 89 FM after 10 o’clock I might hear something like this:
(Innocent voice): “I wonder what’s happening Sunday?”
(Extremely loud announcer voice): “SUNDAY,SUNDAY SUNDAY at the Great Lakes Dragway, Union Grove Wisconsin it’s Big Daddy Done Garlits and his top fueled funny car. Feel the POWER, POWER, POWER!!!”
WLS in Chicago was my favorite radio station in those days. I had no idea that they had made music history with the WLS Barn Dance in the early days of the music i later gravitated to. I could get the Grand Old Opry on WSM if I wanted that but in the late sixties this teenager wanted to hear the Rock and Roll people in the big cities were listening to and WLS was my window on that universe. They played all the latest hits and I was amazed that the reception was so good from my upstairs bedroom in South Carolina nearly 800 miles away. The colder it was and the later you tuned in, the better the reception was.
My FM/AM radio also led me to other clear channel stations. I listened to Havana and about all I could understand was the latest scores from professional beisbol. WWL in New Orleans was home to some great jazz “broadcast from the studios in the Roosevelt Hotel”. I enjoyed that a lot too.
Many of you probably grew up out here in California listening to “border blaster” stations like the “mighty 1090” XERB out of Rosarito, Mexico. You heard Wolfman Jack spin tunes to a wide audience just as the Carter family had blasted their signal through almost all of the United States on XERA across the border from Del Rio, Texas in the 1930’s.
The sixties were certainly not the glory days of radio but clear channel radio in those days, as I’ve said, opened up a whole new world for me. Short wave would probably have been even more enlightening but my only exposure to short wave in those days was an old radio my grandfather had which didn’t work.
My, how times have changed since those days! But the basic idea behind the radio music show lives on. NPR has live Roots music every week and I have the ability to stream shows from anywhere in the world, not just 800 miles away on a cold dark night. I can listen to Bluegrass from Australia if I want to (and I do, they have some good very shows). I can once again enjoy WAMU which changed my life when I lived in Maryland during the eighties. That station single-handedly rekindled my love of traditional music with Ray Davis’s basement tapes, the Dick Spottswood Show and, (every Sunday morning) “Stained Glass Bluegrass”. I still listen to WAMU online as well as WNCW out of Asheville, NC.
Northern California is home to a number of good music shows. I suggest Ray Edlund’s Pig in a Pen on KPFK (the next show is February 2nd at 3 PM), Peter Thompson’s Bluegrass Signal on KALW, (which you can stream any time you want this week) and Mark Hogan’s Monday night show on KOWS out of Sebastopol. Marcos Alvira had a show for many years out near Merced but i don’t know if that’s still running. If you are aware of other shows in our area please let me know. Some shows occasionally have live bands sit in and I think that is a great way to promote our home grown bands.
By the way Don Garlits just celebrated his 88th birthday for all you drag racing fans out there and Dick Spottswood is still active in his eighties.