I love the radio. Most days while I work, I keep mine tuned to a Boston station that plays an eclectic mix of oldies and Indies. I find that music sets a tone of relaxed enthusiasm in my office and helps my creative juices flow. The clock radio I have at my desk is one that I received as a Christmas gift the year I was expecting Gabriel. In 1984 it was cutting edge, with a blue LED display and snooze button. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and the sight of it makes people laugh because it looks so “old school.”
For as long as I remember, I have listened to the radio. My parents often had one playing in the kitchen while they juggled coffee, eggs and kids in the mad rush between sleep and school. Their favorite was Bob Steele, whose chatty relaxed style made WTIC from Hartford the preferred station in our house. To me, Bob Steele was as familiar as my father, as jovial as Captain Kangaroo and as comforting as Walter Cronkite. On the mornings when I missed the bus, my father would drive me to school and together we would listen to Bob play the Dad’s favorites- Billy Butterfield, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles. I remember one particularly difficult conversation with my angry second grade teacher who demanded to know why I was again so late. “It’s my father’s fault,” I mumbled, cheeks red. “He made me listen to the Big Bopper sing “Chantilly Lace.”
The spring that I had the measles, my mother made a bed on the couch in the den so I could listen to talk radio between naps. Too ill to watch television, I laid in bed and listened for the “beep!” that announced that the speaker had changed from the host to the caller. The callers, in an attempt to hear themselves over the air, often kept their radios turned on, despite the host’s urgings to turn them off. They were always betrayed by the echo of their voices, and the host would again tell them to turn off their radios, his exasperation evident in his tone. I found this far more entertaining than the actual discussion.
The Christmas before I turned fifteen I got my first transistor radio. It ran by battery and had a single ear plug so I could listen to it from under my covers. I stayed awake past midnight listening to “Midnight Confessions,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Hey Jude.” My radio became a constant companion, as the Hi Fi in the living room was usually playing music of my parents’ choice, and besides, I had no money for records. I listened to my favorite artists while I dressed for school, while I did my homework and while I drifted off to sleep. I lazed on a blanket in the hot beach sand, listening to “Sweet Caroline” and “Marrakesh Express” on AM radio’s Top 40.
When I went to college, I discovered FM radio- cool stations manned by students with beards and pony tails who had shelves and shelves of albums in the studio. It was through FM radio that I honed my love for acoustic music instead of the over-produced studio sounds. I listened to FM radio when I joined VISTA and went to Idaho, but when “Dust in the Wind” was replaced by “Hooked on Classics” my love affair with radio began to fade. By the time the back of my station wagon was filled with car seats, I had pretty much given up radio all together, choosing to have my toddlers sing along with a tape of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” instead of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.”
When Elizabeth was four, I returned to work, and once again rekindled my relationship with the radio- mostly to make the half hour commute more palatable. As the children grew, I found listening to their favorite stations brought us closer together, and although my preference may not have been boy bands and Hootie and the Blowfish, I endured endless repetitions of “Tearin’ Up My Heart” to bridge the gap between parent and teenager, and it worked.
My office radio has kept me in touch with the changing world. The OklahomaCity bombing, the verdict of the OJ Simpson murder trial, and the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana were announced through the radio on my desk. On September 11, I fought back tears as my favorite radio program was interrupted by the falling of the Twin Towers.
This morning, like most mornings, I entered my office, switched on my computer and tuned my radio to a Boston station. I know what the traffic is like, what weather is predicted and when the pressure from my job starts to build, I can float away- just for a moment.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Van Morrison is on the radio and I love this song…