Raised on the radio
Just an all-American boy
I've got my favorite toy
- The Ravyns
I went to a Lutheran Bible Camp at Lake Okoboji when I was in the 6th grade.
This vacation was going to be the first time I had ever been away by myself for a week, and I was worried. I wasn't nervous about missing my family or not being able to make friends. I also didn't think twice about sleeping in a strange bed or having to eat weird food.
I was afraid that a new song would come out on the radio while I was at camp, and I would miss it.
That seems ridiculous today, but back then a song could be played on the radio only a couple of times and then disappear forever. You couldn't download the song or find it on Youtube. The music store in my small hometown sure wouldn't have it. You were at the mercy of the DJs and the music programers. I was horrified by the idea that a great song might come and go before I had the chance to hear it.
The clock radio on the table next to my bed could receive only one "rock" station with any dependable clarity. KELO FM, broadcasting from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was my one connection to the world of new music. I was spending at least one hour every night in bed watching the minute numbers slowly flipping over while memorizing song titles, band names, and lyrics.
That hour of music was always past my bedtime, so my radio's volume was turned down as low as possible. It's surprising how loud level 1 can become in a silent room.
MTV wasn't an option in (soft)Rock Valley, but when I was in 9th grade the USA Network began airing a 30-minute music program called Radio 1990. I also discovered the music reviews in Rolling Stone magazine about that time. Both were great resources for learning about new music, but I still spent dark hours quietly obsessing in the soft glow of the alarm clock.
In high school I got pretty good at making mix-tapes of songs recorded from LPs and CDs.
By the time Napster and recordable CDs showed up, I had forgotten all about listening to the radio at night.
I even quit listening to the radio in the car when Des Moines' alternative radio station, The DOT 107.5, converted to dance music in July of 1999. I became my own DJ, and for years I only listened to what I wanted to hear when I wanted to hear it.
But then I found a vintage clock radio at a thrift store a few weeks ago. I had no idea why I was drawn to it, but when my gut tells me to buy something, I have learned to listen.
This is what I brought home.
I tested the clock's accuracy and then retired my beat Spartus alarm clock. Out with old; in with the less old. Having a radio next to my bed again feels like finishing a puzzle I didn't know was incomplete.
But what station to listen to? I have a lot more choices than I did in the 80's.
Lately, I'm in bed before Daphne, and I have about 30 minutes to listen to WOI-FM on 90.1. My clock has a "Sleep" button that allows the radio to play for eight minutes before it turns off. I usually hit the sleep button two or three times a night - it's like a snooze button in reverse.
I'm really enjoying the music they play on Studio One, World Cafe, and UnderCurrents. These programs broadcast some music I wouldn't hear anywhere else, and listening to these musical discoveries is like being twelve again. Sometimes a song is so good I want to get up and write down the name of the artist, but I stay in bed. I'm too lazy to care that much.
Do I like all the music they play on these programs? No, I don't. And that's why I enjoy listening to them.
I'd fall asleep a lot faster if 90.1 only played my favorite songs in my favorite genres. A few nights ago the radio was playing a few live recordings by an instrumental group. I wasn't fond of their music, but at the end of each song the recorded audience clapped and cheered with enthusiasm. I kept listening to see if I could hear what they heard. I didn't figure it out, but it was a more interesting experience than listening to a song I knew by heart.
I'm also glad the radio doesn't have a "skip" button. There's nothing I can do if I don't like a song; I have no control over the radio's programming. Instead of dismissing a song after five seconds because it sounds like something I don't enjoy, I have to give the music a chance. And that's where you strike gold. If you only stick with what you like, then you might miss discovering what you love.
Well, that's enough typing for tonight. It's time to hit that Sleep button. I've got some uncharted territories to explore.