“Radio Ga Ga”
By Tony Candela
In 1984, the rock group “Queen” released a thoughtful reminiscence of the old days of radio. I can picture the late Freddie Mercury lying in bed as an adolescent listening to “The War of the Worlds” and thinking:
“I’d sit alone, and watch your light
My only friend, through teenage nights…”
“Queen” appreciated the power of old radio. As the lyrics go:
“You made them all, those old-time stars
Through wars of worlds, invaded by Mars
You made ’em laugh, you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly.”
The song goes on to lament modern visual/auditory representations like music videos, that do not inspire youngsters to learn to listen the way old radio did. (Incidentally, a young woman by the name of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, did listen. She loved Queen so much, she likely took her stage name from this song. Or was it Gaga, an older society woman in Emile Zola’s “Nana”? I’m pretty sure it’s the former.)
Anyone who grew up prior to the mid-1970s had a fighting chance to appreciate radio in ways TV and newer media have taken away. Yes, there are digital radio offerings today which are great, but few contain the mixture of stories, songs and related comments, jokes, and news items that old time broadcasting provided. Historians of science know that progress toward the invention of radio began 200 years ago with the discovery of electro-magnetic waves. By the 1890’s, Marconi had built the first broadcast radio and by the 1920s, entertainment radio was available to a demanding public. Over the years, we have experienced everything from Radio Free Europe to Tokyo Rose, but until the advent of social media, few forces have aided human communications more.
While I don’t listen to pop-rock A.M. stations any more, I do enjoy NPR and have it on every morning until high noon. I am all the more informed for it. However, I don’t enjoy the plethora of conservative talk-radio on the A.M. dial.
As a young boy, my parents often found me with the vaunted A.M. radio under my pillow, listening to Yankees games when I should have been sleeping. That same radio hung by its carrying strap from a window frame next to my right ear while I was at my desk doing homework to the sounds of Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) of WABC A.M. radio in New York. I did my best mathematics work with the radio on; for most other subjects, I had to have quiet. Other rock-radio DJ icons included Dick Clarke, Jack Spector, Murray the K (Kaufman), Alan Freed, and Wolfman Jack, to name a few. In college in the early 1970s, I grew to appreciate F.M. stations like WNEW in New York which played entire sides of vinyl record albums and more avant-garde stuff than did the A.M. stations.
As a person who has had poor eyesight for a bit more than half of his life and for the past 30 years, none at all, my radio experience extends beyond the norm. Many blind people use the radio as a supplement to television, especially during sportscasts where the descriptions are fuller. I have taken my radio, earphones in tow, to baseball stadiums in New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Anaheim, and Los Angeles. I’ve even tried it once at a NY Giants versus NY Jets exhibition game at their stadium in northern New Jersey, but it didn’t work. There is just too much noise too much of the time. In baseball, except for triples and home runs, it remains not too loud, even with 45,000 people in the stands, to hear your radio if your ear piece is snug enough and the volume turned up. The people around me in the stands love it because I can tell them some of the subtle things going on that they cannot perceive from a hundred or more feet away from the players, not to mention stats enunciated by the radio announcers.
My apartment is replete with enough radios all tuned to the same station to render it a complete surround-sound environment. I can walk from bedroom to bathroom, to kitchen, to living room and never miss a beat, except for everything I miss when I am on my talking computer which requires a good deal of concentration. However, I’ve grown skillful enough at multi-tasking to notice when I need to pause in order to concentrate on the radio. Once in a while I hear about a movie, book, or podcast there and voila, my life is just that much richer.
Then there are radio reading services, which broadcast narrators reading books, newspapers and magazines over the waves which are often sub-carriers of major radio stations in the region. Lots of blind folks, especially older ones, listen to it. Customers are provided with fixed radio receivers. Today, radio reading services transmit over digital high-definition waves and also can be picked up by computers and other devices. I listened to my NY station a great deal at one time, but with so many avenues to gather information and interesting reading these days, I’ve given it up.
Most of us have experienced a wide variety of radios, many stand-alone as are three of the four in my apartment and many that are combined with other devices. The radio in my living room was designed to look like a classic old radio with tubes, something one might have used during the Great Depression to listen to FDR’s fireside chats, some “Fibber McGee and Molly”, a little “Superman”, and a nice dollop of hilarity by George Burns and Gracey Allen. Gratefully, my radio is just an A.M./F.M., knob-tuned radio with a nice sound due to extra-large speakers and, oh yes, cassette and CD players. It is quite the nifty device. On the opposite end of the user-friendliness spectrum is the talking atomic clock-radio on my nightstand. The sound is terrible and it has never set itself as it is supposed to if you place it near a window overnight. Hand-setting the time is a bear, but manual in hand, I’ve managed to do it over the years.
Unlike in the past, I never touch anyone’s car radio. There are just too many bad things I can do to it, especially if I unwittingly encounter a touch screen. Besides, I am rarely in cars these days and usually there is a smartphone somewhere in the mix which I also do not wish to knock out of commission.
Speaking of smartphones, I do have the Audacy and IHeart Radio apps downloaded onto my iPhone. I use Audacy to reach my Yankees games and IHeart Radio for batches of songs from selected rock groups depending on my mood, all of them from the 70s and 80s.
In all, I am still gaga for radio and believe as did “Queen”: “You had your time, you had the power. You’ve yet to have your finest hour.”
Radio, may you live forever. You are the vehicle that can reduce the privilege of the visual, perhaps just enough for people to appreciate the power of audition. This would be a good thing.
Note: if you right-click (context key, ‘open hyperlink’) on many of the links in this article, you can hear the real thing. Happy listening everybody!
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Books by Tony…
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
More About Tony…
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.