Radio In My Life

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.


I often think about the impact radio has had on my life. We all are shaped by different influences, but radio has been a major presence in my life.

When I was a kid, we had just one radio in our home. It was a gorgeous cherrywood console that graced our living room. Listening to it was often a family activity.

Then radios became less expensive and smaller, enough so that I had a radio of my own. That meant I could choose the music I heard, a major step in my personal growth. I’ll never forget that winter night in 1956 when I first heard Elvis sing Heartbreak Hotel. I was blown away by the angst it expressed, and from that moment on my taste in music diverged from the taste of my parents. I became a great fan of Top Forty pop music, something I listened to on a small Bakelite AM radio in my bedroom. Later the popular life was revolutionized by the availability of inexpensive, portable transistor radios.

When I began grad school, there was a radio station called WLOL broadcasting classical music. I planned my whole day around that station’s schedule. When Bill Kling launched KSJN as a classical music station in the Twin Cities, I became a listener on the first day it hit the air. That classical station had a weird eclectic show in the morning, weird because the host, Garrison Keillor, played an idiosyncratic hodgepodge of country, folk and world music. I was hooked. Keillor later began chatting with his studio engineer, Tom Keith, and I became fanatical about the show. It was the way I started my day, and that remained true when Dale Connelly became the host and whimsical voice of The Morning Show.

The only firm, fixed point in our family’s week was listening to Prairie Home Companion on Saturday nights. We made no plans that conflicted with that broadcast. My daughter grew up thinking of Garrison as something like a family member, a windy storyteller like her dad. She expected her birthday to be hailed by Dale and Tom.

When I joined an online dating service following my divorce I had to define myself so women could judge whether they were interested in talking to me. My personal description mentioned books and outdoor recreation and other activities, but I always felt the most concise and useful identifier was the three words identifying me as a “public radio guy.”

What memories do you have of radio? What has radio meant in your life?

38 thoughts on “Radio In My Life”

  1. Me sitting on the fire hydrant across from home with my new transistor radio. First song was Come A Little Bit Closer by Jay And The Americans. Much later that song, became part of a cd compilation of foreign language songs as Jay Black sang it in Spanish and I knew the words.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. My earliest memories of a personal radio are of a crystal set in a rocket-shaped case that one could tune by pulling out a rod that extended from the nose of the rocket. You listened through an earplug. The radio couldn’t pick up much in the daytime but at night I could get WLS from Chicago. I would lie in bed and listen to radio shows like Amos ‘n Andy and Gunsmoke.

    My parent’s radio was in the kitchen and when I came in to breakfast, it would be tuned to WCCO. Boone and Erickson, with Maynard Speece doing the farm report. And polka music, which I found particularly hard to take early in the morning.

    My first transistor radio was aqua blue and I must have gotten it sometime during my latter grade school years because I remember cutting a compartment in an old book that would just fit the radio. I would run the earphone cord up my shirt and down my sleeve and, sitting with my head resting on my hand, listen to the radio sometimes in class. I don’t think there was anything compelling to listen to—I think I just liked the idea of getting away with it.

    I don’t remember how we first became aware of Prairie Home Companion but it was very early on. Robin went to one of the broadcasts with a friend—I must have been home watching the kids—when it was produced in a room, I think at Macalester, with folding chairs for the audience and Garrison had a belly dancer as on of his guests. We’ve never been able, or willing, to schedule our lives around radio broadcasts, so our listen history has been catch as catch can. Back when I needed to use an alarm clock, I had it set so the first thing I would hear was Garrison reading the poem of the day. My drive to work was the main time I listened to the morning show.

    I find old radios very appealing. I spent a fair amount of my pre- teens fiddling with radio sets, taking them apart and fixing them. A couple of years ago,some friends introduced us to a pair of brothers who collect and restore old radios, adding bluetooth receptivity to them if you wish it. They work out of a farm near Jordan and have barns full of classic old radio sets. I bought three from them, all three in art deco bakelite cases, and have them scattered about the house. There’s something about playing an old radio drama like Sam Spade when you play it through a classic radio…

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Your mention of Amos and Andy sparks a memory. I was a radio guy before our family got a television set in 1952 to watch England’s new queen get coronated. Fans of silent movies were once stunned to hear the voices of some of their stars. I can identify. I was shocked at the faces of some of my radio stars, Arthur Godfrey in particular. I’ve often heard people criticized for enjoying race humor in the old Amos and Andy shows. I was never embarrassed by that, for I was jolted to learn that my favorite comedians were black! Other favorite radio shows were Fibber McGee, The Great Gildersleeve, Gunsmoke and The Green Hornet. The part of Matt Dillon on the radio show was played by William Conrad. He was fat, so they had to audition a new actor when the show moved to television.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. They were common once. I had one wired to my bedroom radiator for a ground. It was fun to fiddle around with the “cat’s whisker” on different parts of the crystal. The one I had had a very short range.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. My father loved radios. He was a radio operator in the Army Air Corps when he wasn’t a gunner. He told me he listened to The War of the Worlds on its debut on Halloween and went outside to see if anything was happening. In his last months he still had a fancy radio he listened to to get to sleep.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. In the early years of PHC, WCCO had a firm grip on adult radio. That was the era of Boone & Erickson, Joyce Lamont, Steve Cannon and others. Garrison used to joke that he had a pretty fair radio show, but of course he was “no Maynard Speece.”

      Liked by 4 people

  4. I have a funny radio memory. I was in high school and my mother and I were in the den playing Aggravation. The den was where the stereo was, which at that time included the radio. We were listening to a popular pop station and the DJ played “Joy to the World by Three Dog Night. Then when it ended the DJ said isn’t that a great song and he played it again. He played it six times in a row and it was so very strange that this was happening. Even after all these years I still envision the other radio station personnel trying to break down the door to stop the Joy. I have wondered more than once since then if the DJ lost his job over that.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. When my folks bought the handsome radio console that sat in our living room in the 50s, it had a radio, a record player and two big holes. The salesman said the holes would someday hold television sets, and “after that you will never turn the radio on again.”

    But of course, radio didn’t die. You could listen to the radio while doing something else, like finishing homework or driving a car. Much later I was so deeply involved with radio that we’d often have different radios on and tuned to the LGMS. We could walk from room to room without missing anything.

    Still later my most important possession was my headset FM Walkman radio. For a decade I walked while listening to KNOW for an hour or two each day. Public radio was an omnipresent companion.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I received a transistor radio with an earpiece when I was about 9 or 10. Listened to WDGY and KDWB constantly, unless the Twins game was on. Then I’d fall asleep listening to the game. Most mornings I woke up with the earpiece still in my ear or the cord wrapped around my head and the battery dead.

    When Dad was building his canoe in the garage and I would “help” him, on weekends, we’d listen to the Twins game out there. Fall yard work on Sunday meant Vikings games were playing.

    Didn’t get into MPR until college. Immediately got hooked on ‘The Jazz Image” with Leigh Kammen. Incredible show when I think of all the interviews he did with jazz greats over the years.

    Dale & Jim Ed came into our lives about 1980. Never got into PHC big time, but listened fairly often in Garrison’s later years. My wife was a bigger fan than I. Became a Saturday evening ritual in our house. She’d listen in the living room while I cooked dinner, and we’d eat as soon as the show ended.

    I still wake up every day and eat breakfast to Classical MPR. I remember living for the MN Orch Friday night live broadcasts in the 2000s. Something about orchestral music at that time resonated more than usual with me. (Still a huge classical fan).

    A day without radio (music) is like a day without sunshine.

    Chris in O-town

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Leigh Kammen was an odd but likable character. His delivery was like nobody else’s. We’d listen to his show late at night at our Lake Superior cabin. I always thought Minnesota Public Radio treated Leigh with appropriate respect, one of the last great jazz advocates in the Twin Cities.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I remember when KDWB and WDGY were sort of competitors (maybe they still are. I haven’t listened to AM radio in many decades.) My immediate association with KDWB (channel 63) and my little turquoise portable radio is the Beach Boys singing “I Get Around”.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. Rise and Shine, Baboons,

    Radio was a big player in my life. My first radio was a little plastic transistor radio with headphones that I listened to at night, while I read books with a flashlight, all secretly under the covers. With that little radio I discovered WLS in Chicago, KOMA in Oklahoma City, the Singin’ Pig in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a Sioux Falls Radio station with forgotten call letters. They all played top 40 selections. The reception depended on weather patterns.

    Our family listened to a local radio station, KLEM, in my hometown in the mornings. The highlights of that was the police report in which local transgressions were read to the public. These were also published in the newspaper, but the oral recitation seemed to have special powers to shame the speeders picked up by the police.

    In 1976 I was in the second year of a job working with Developmentally Disabled adults. Upon returning from a weekend trip to the Cities, my boss told me of this quirky little show he attended at Macalaster College with a tall, gangly host. I could not get a radio station in Iowa that covered it at the time. However, I discovered Public Radio in Grand Rapids, MN (KAXE) in 1977 when we lived in the area. That station carried PHC which became a staple of Saturday evenings through grad school at the U of MN, and for years following. I wish MPR would broadcast reruns now. I still miss that beloved LGMS and the whimsical flights of fancy that carried.

    Off to work now. Yesterday my left foot was X-rayed again. It has healed, so now I have to slowly re-adapt my foot to a shoe again, then I can resume walking. Hallelujah.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Garrison experimented with a magazine show that preceded PHC. He called it “the Freeport Show,” and it was an awkward thing that aired twice before he hit upon the more polished PHC concept. Freeport was where he lived on a farm early in his MPR days.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. The radio in our house was always tuned to WCCO – lots of Boone & Erickson, Joyce Lamont, Maynard Speece, and Twins games. My first transistor radio was turquoise in color and tuned to either WDGY or KDWB (can still hear the call letters jingles). I had a Walkman for awhile – even brought it to some sporting events so I could listen to the play by play instead of just listening to the arena or stadium announcer. I didn’t come to MPR until sometime in the mid to late 90s and even then it was mostly the Morning Show on my bedside clock radio and occasionally PHC. Now I have a Bose Wave system in my living room and it is nearly always tuned to MPR classical unless there is a MN Lynx broadcast.

    One of my best friends only listens to the radio (MPR news) when driving and I’ve never heard a radio on in her house. I can’t imagine being home with no music.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many folks remember Herb Carneal as the old voice of the Twins, but before him there were Ray Scott and the inimitable Halsey Hall. I was listening to the game when Halsey became famous for accidentally setting his booth on fire with his cigar. He was a character. In a game where Twins manager Billy Martin became infuriated over a call at first base he kicked up a dust storm and spat to show his anger. He was ejected. Said Halsey, “Those who expectorate should not expect to rate.”

      Liked by 5 people

  9. It was s somewhat of a rude transition to the CBC after MPR when I moved to Winnipeg. .The Canadian radio hosts were so opinionated and quirky. As I work today I am streaming MPR Classical. We always have MPR on in some shape or another at home. I need music while I do paperwork. Husband needs it quiet.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. In our family, my erstwife favored KSJN and I favored KNOW. Molly grew up quite familiar with “mom’s station” and “dad’s station.”

      KNOW used to air CBC broadcasts. What I remember was how differently CBC journalists and guests dealt with the start and end of segments. Compared to CBC, public radio hosts in the US are brutally abrupt about greeting someone or saying goodbye. The CBC folks took forever to make a transition. “Well, thanks.” “Thank you.” Goodbye, then.” “Yes, goodbye.” “Talk to you later.” “Any time!” Etc, etc, etc.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Early on, especially, in my freelancing days, I would often find myself working late into the night against deadlines and the radio was my thin entertainment. I became very familiar with the CBC and particularly “As It Happens” when it came on KNOW in the wee hours.

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  10. A great story today Steve.
    I have though too, how important radio is to me.
    I have a memory of being down in our basement, I might have been working on a model airplane kit, and the local station, KWEB AM and hearing the song “Knock Three Times” was playing.
    There was always a radio on in the barn. Sometimes, if dad could find them, with Polkas… man I hated polkas. It was just an old left over AM radio but it was plugged into the adapter to a light bulb so it came on with the barn lights.

    The day when I swapped it to an FM radio was a tough day for Dad; he wasn’t a fan. Eventually I swapped it to a Sony ‘weather proof’ radio w/ Cassette and eventually CD player. The barn was kind of a tough environment. I always meant to install a car radio in the milk house (because while wet, it was cleaner) and run wire and speakers into the barn.
    Listening to the Morning show while down in the barn was always fun. I would miss bits though as I’d have to go outside to turn on equipment or deal with something. And then out to the milk house where there wasn’t a radio.
    Getting radio’s in the tractors was HUGE! Our first tractor with a cab was so loud, the neighbors could hear the radio better than we could right next too it.
    Now, both my tractors have Bluetooth radios so I can take phone calls or stream music from my phone. Or Podcasts! Dad wouldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t be that interested either. He didn’t like the cabs that well and he’s open all the windows. Hard to keep the dust out that way and we argued over that…

    I enjoyed Garrisons book ‘WLT’. He’s got a section on how to fire someone. I’ve used that.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. A radio memory. I had to make a grocery run one Saturday evening. I pulled into the supermarket parking lot during Garrison’s monologue. Feeling a bit foolish, I sat in the car with the radio on until the bit was over. At exactly the same moment, two other men and I got out of our cars and headed into the store. We grinned at each other self-consciously, acknowledging we were public radio guys. But, hey, it was a Whole Food store, so that was not unexpected.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. A dear friend of mine who is a professional church organist grew up on a big potato farm near Buxton, ND. He was no farmer. One day, his dad asked him to cultivate or something using their brand new Steiger tractor with enclosed cab that had FM radio with stereo speakers. Bill cranked up MPR and proceeded to go up and down the rows. He noticed it was raining so he turned on the wipers. It wasn’t raining, though. The radiator hose had come loose and was spraying the windshield. He drove until he burned out the engine. The tractor was a total loss.

      Liked by 5 people

  11. Finish reading later… I remember my folks listening to radio shows in the evenings before we had TV. When for my 11th or 12th birthday, they asked if I’d like a transistor for my birthday – I didn’t think so (thought they were too expensive, I guess), but they gave it to me anyway, and it kind of changed my life. To be able to find your own music, and walk around (the Trail Court) with this, without your little sister…

    In high school we had two top 40 stations out of Des Moines, KIOA (still going) was one – anyone else remember episodes of Chicken Man?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It is generally acknowledged that the concept of “teenager” is relatively new, having only emerged at about the time the postwar baby boom altered American society forever. A common factor cited for this new group is the automobile. Young people once had little chance to socialize except in public spaces or their homes. A young person with an automobile could go somewhere private and maybe do something private. The availability of radios was another such factor. A kid with a personal radio could monitor the music he or she preferred, and that promoted independence. When I was struggling to forge my own identity my radio was a huge aid, for I could enjoy music my dad found contemptible. I grew up hooked on Top 40 rock and later used radio to access folk and world music.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Continuing… I pretty much skipped radio during college, and re-discovered in San Francisco with KQED. Moving to Mpls, though, is what cemented the deal, providing me with classical and (eventually) news MPR, GK’s Morning Show morphing into TLGMS (fondly described by several of you above), and PHC. (This is just a festival of acronyms, isn’t it?)
    Radio Heartland et al. are now available via streaming.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I seem to remember getting a little blue transistor radio free with a magazine order or something. I doubt it worked very well…
    Speaking of ‘driveway moments’… I talked about the radio in the barn and there was times when my favorite song would come on and I’d have to stop and stand under the radio for a moment. That wasn’t good; the cows had a schedule and leaving a milker on a cow longer than needed was bad for them. (that’s why all the modern dairies have automatic take off’s) Scheherazade is one of my favorites. One rough day, that came on MPR. I pulled the milkers off and stood under the radio with my eyes closed for a few minutes enjoying the last movement. Sigh. Went back to milking.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Those first transistor radios from Japan were a novelty and a portent of things to come. Early models had names that were variants of words for sun, for Japan was the land of the rising sun. After the war we were accustomed to seeing little gold stickers on products that said Made in Japan. That was almost a euphemism for “cheap goods.” But the cunning little transistor radios were highly desirable consumer products, a hint of all the electronic stuff that would be coming from Japan, all the Sony and Panasonic and other products we would soon come to love.

      Liked by 1 person

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