Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Smaller than a tissue box, it sat on the nightstand between our beds. It was hard green plastic with a black face and cardboard back. The dial glowed in the dark with soft, warm light. It held the interest of two boys who should have been asleep but were captured by voices broadcast from near and far on the AM band.
My brother and I connected through the radio to both the broader world in the night beyond our bedroom walls and to each other through its magic. We listened to sports, music, radio drama, and talk radio from local WDIX in Orangeburg to far flung WLS in Chicago, the dial was open territory and all was fair game.
We would listen to the incomprehensible hockey games of the Fort Wayne Komets on WOWO and the Philadelphia Flyers on some long forgotten station out of Philly. What did we Southern boys know of games played on ice? We became die-hard Braves fans as Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson guided us through many losing seasons. Still we were thrilled by Hammerin' Hank Aaron, Ralph “the Roadrunner” Garr, and Knucksie Phil Nekro. We would even dial into Philly games because we could never get enough baseball. Our basketball thirst was satisfied not by any pro team, but by the heroic efforts of Mike Dunleavy and John Roach who played for the Gamecocks under the near mythical Frank McGuire on WIS in Columbia.
I’m not sure of Chris, but talk radio really drew me in. When I was young there were such characters that roamed the airways. I remember Larry King before he was tainted by television. I listened to one host that instructed me to go outside beneath a full moon with outstretched empty wallet, turn around three times uttering "Filler Up" with each spin. Another distant regional personality continually claimed that Montana did not exist, because whenever he passed over it in travels it was night and therefore never any proof of the pilots assertions "We are now flying over Montana." I checked an rechecked maps, it certainly seemed like Montana was there to me, but how could I know?
It was the onslaught of the TV era when we were hooked on night time radio, but CBS radio still put together its weekly CBS Radio mystery theater, hosted by the wonderful voice of the venerable E.G. Marshall and produced by Hyman Brown. They performed adaptations of classics like Poe's The Black Cat, The Hand by Guy de Maupassant, and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, as well as their own original radio plays. My brother and I were chilled and delighted by each broadcast. I loved these so much; my friend Jim Albergotti and I produced our own hilarious shows (at least to us!) recorded on cassette tapes.
Chris and I also would listen to music, not a lot but some. It was far from our main fare. For some reason the only song I can remember hearing from that blessed box in those days was Windmills of my Mind. Curious.
There were nights upon nights that Chris and I made these nocturnal excursions while never leaving our beds. Flights of imagination piloted by voices deep and resonating that would take us to the very edge of our dreams each night. I clung to my nighttime radio habit many years beyond when my brother and I got our own bedrooms.
Sadly as is the way of progress, shows went away, regional personalities gave way to syndicated ones, and airwaves became too crowded for my radio to reach out beyond the boundaries of South Carolina. I miss all those programs. I miss the endless variety that haunted random and magical points on the dial, and I miss Chris in his bed and I in mine listening to the static tinged world so vast beyond our walls.