Arriving at the radio station a few minutes before air time last week, I was handed a scrap of note paper with a phone number scribbled on it along with the admonition to “call this person; he sounded as if it was real important”. The call went through an answering service, followed by a somewhat quavering man’s voice assuring me that I had indeed reached the right person. He went on to explain that he was blind and handicapped, and was also suffering from lupus. He told me that he lived in a small confined space and had very little contact with the outside world, and was interested in the kind of recorded college-level learning courses he had heard me describe in an earlier broadcast. Then he said something that really hit home: “I always listen to your program, and for one hour every Monday, you are my whole world!”
After doing nearly twelve years of “PROVIDENT LIVING – HOME & COUNTRY” here in southern Utah, following five years of a previous iteration of a similar talk format in the Wasatch Front, I had been wondering if I was overstaying my welcome in a talk market where such programming is giving way (or really has long ago given way) to satellite-driven radio sourcing. “Home-grown” radio shows – once popular across rural and small-town America” – are unarguably a dying phenomenon; a fact of which I am acutely aware. Then too there is the challenge of constantly researching and developing material which is fresh, and new and timely for an audience which have their own set of expectations. In short, I “do” radio because I love the art form and enjoy the adventure of it; an adventure which for me at least, has never become old.
There is an intimacy to radio which defies explanation. One sits in a small room with a control board, headphones, microphones and a clock on the wall and carries on a conversation with the voices of people who are invisible but real. For years I knew that no matter what, “Mary” would be listening, and would often call me in-studio, or on my cell on the way home, and write me letters and cards, and send me her own charming funny-book characters. And then there is Susan, and Evan, and Tom, and Mo and dozens of others whose voices I have known so well. Mary passed away last year just before her 90th birthday and I miss her. In a way, I often feel she is still listening.
I sometimes talk to truck drivers on the Interstate, or folks who are just traveling through our region. I have received “surprise” mail from people in Ohio, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and a wonderful book from a lady in Alaska – all people who caught a word, a paragraph, or a short story while driving along in Utah, Nevada or Arizona during that magical hour. And all- too-often I am stopped in a local store by someone who recognizes my voice, and I find myself both embarrassed and a little bit proud to think I may be leaving a small “footprint” (or maybe a voiceprint) after all.
When speaking of “radio”, the word magical automatically comes to mind. I was born into that end of the 20th century in which radio was “King”. It was where I actually heard the “Hindenburg” disaster take place, and the first bulletin of the Pearl Harbor attack hit the air waves, and the voice of Winston Churchill addressing Parliament, and “Babe” Ruth saying goodbye at Yankee Stadium. To this day there is a radio somewhere either in or adjacent to every room in our home – seven at last count.
Each week I go on the air I can imagine I’m hearing the voice of a forgotten American named Frank Conrad who crouched over a home-made 100-watt “wireless” transmitter in his Pittsburgh garage in November, 1920 and spoke these words into a microphone: “This is KDKA, in Pittsburgh and these are the early election returns”, thereby ushering in the age of radio news broadcasting. Frank Conrad in fact introduced “talk radio” to a nation whose eager citizens would acquire 1.5 million radio sets by the next year. And from now on, I will also be hearing the words: “and each Monday, you are my world”.
In a father-and-son “special edition” Chris Cooper joins Al in dealing with the subject of International Travel.