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April 11, 2006


Dale Hazelton

About 1970 my dad was putting a new roof on the house. Being the pragmatic man he was, he had his 11 year old (me) and 13 year old sons help him hump plywood and bundles of shingles up the ladder and onto the roof deck, While the roof wasn't pitched very much, I doubt OSHA would smile kindly upon this labor arrangement today. Anyway, when everything was buttoned up my dad gave me a $20 dolar bill, a kings ransom for a kid back then. I couldn't keep that twenty around long for fear my brother would steal it, so I decided to spend it immediately, on MY OWN RADIO, a GE AM/FM/Weather/AIR band model. While FM was just beginning to get into the album-oriented rock genre, it was still pretty much classical in the Buffalo area where I grew up, and AM was where it was at if you wanted to hear the hits of the day. But what really made things fun was tuning around at night, with the help of a flashlight under the blankets and a pillow speaker to keep things sort of clandestine. You could hear a ball game from Cleveland or Chicago. Music from far away places like Detroit or Nashville. And commercials for furniture, car dealerships, clothing shops and the such from those places were as exotic to me then as a PBS special about some tiny ecosystem in the Amazon is now. All you had to do was turn on the radio and all these voices from a thousand miles away were right there!!

But today's AM band has become primarily the soapbox of rightwing bigmouths shutting their callers down, sports analysis programs and endless 15 minute loops of news infobits and traffic reports. The technology hasn't changed but the programming has killed the desire to make that signal catch, for me anyway. My interest in sports has waned and talk programming is all syndicated, so I just don't care that much. Sadly, the music left AM -- there's no more Four Tops or Lou Christy, no more Patti Page or the Polka Rascals. I remember the time I tuned in 1560 to be lulled to sleep by some good old standards and the assault of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" came blaring out. I kept trying to fine tune, thinking maybe my dial string was slipping, but no, QEW was just dead forever.

I just don't get why the music left the band, in the Clear Channel outlets, anyway. Have they just decided that the fidelity isn't there? Will no one listen if rap or rock isn't part of the mix? Or is it simply not profitable to play music programmed by a human being?

Yes, there still is some music, albeit Hispanic in nature. And while I don't speak spanish, I actually applaud this trend, because that means AM radio is doing what it's supposed to -- provide an affordable media outlet to specific local demographics.

I guess that's why I've found the Professor's posts on shortwave so fascinating. If you want to hear something truly exotic, you can't really do it on that 4 transistor pocket radio anymore. Shortwave in the rest of the world is what AM used to be here. Great music and interesting local flavor from far away. The soapboxes are still there, however...I guess we'll never get away from them.


That's sweet how the KQV signal faded up just before the ID. Nine times out of ten, the ID is when the signal fades down, or a static crash obliterates a letter or two. :-)

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