Thursday, November 29, 2012

Teenage Radio Lore, the Way it Was...

What? no FM dial?
I had a little blue '83 Ford Ranger till this week. It just decided, at 30 years old, to take an expensive vacation. We think it's a busted head gasket. 

It began to give little warnings of retiring in the last year. I kept the radio on, turned it down, not off. I had to keep it on NPR, which I find, better than any FM station on the dial. If Ichanged the station to listen to the Braves, it would blink off, and require a bear paw blow to the dash to return to duty. Fickle, but not as fickle as the GM tube radio in my '48 Chevy businessman's coupe...always in need of a tube of some sort. i couldn't live without it not working!

I give you this background, because it seems listening to the radio in the 50's and 60's wasn't that hard to do.

I grew up in the great Folk Music Scare, Along with the rest of America, I listened to the Kingston Trio, The Limelighters, Joan Baez, (even though she sold out to that Commie poet, Bob Dyaln) Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary and a whole host of folkies. Some of you are probably old enough to remember singing at the top of your lungs to the dulcet strains of Tom Dooley, Puff the Magic Dragon or DAY-O .

Of course, you had to put up with Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mathis. Andy Williams and that sort. Eventually the good stuff, what we call oldie goldies, now, would come on.

Radio was pretty much all  AM frequency...lots of  low powered stations in every town in the country. There was no FM to listen to in the 50's and most of the 60's. What was wrong with the AM format? It was VERY geographically challenged. I remember you could drive 20 miles and have to change the dial to the town you were close to.

The Athens, Ga, stations were good to about 20 to 25 miles in the day time, and could be found up to 60 miles away when the "power increase" kicked in. The AM station signals were allowed to increase their power after dark...never understood quite why that was, but we loved it! Those big ole Westinghouse 100,000 Watt stations began to crank up so we could get Nashville's WLAC airing Randy's Record Shop and Hoss Man Allen, WCKY had Wayne Raney. WSM had the Grand Ole Opry. Atlanta has WSB, Bob and Ray in the Morning...and not much going for the youth of America. Teenagers  weren't up in the morning, and if they were, they were in no mood for Bob and Ray!

The Westinghouse stations were "cruising  stations". They brightened every Saturday the drive in theater, or the local hang out. Of course, somebody would always end up with a dead battery at midnight.
Car Radio Performance gurus could guarantee you more power, dual speakers for the hat rack in the rear window. You could even get a Reverb to give Johnny Cash that real low sustain, or Link Ray's guitar solo Rumble that big "bottom of the well" growl. Dual antennae with power master" coils on them were hot items. We cruised the junk yards looking for these, as they were expensive.

 Bill Campbell was the teenage radio genius in our town. He could engineer more powerful tubes, bigger power amp and speakers. His tricks of the trade made your late 40's early 50's ride a better place to be after school on the way to Harry's Hang Out, listening to the Hive of Jive.

Playing with your radio was fun. It was always a topic of conversation in the parking lot. You commanded a little more respect when you could pick up a station in the Lucky Wishbone parking lot late Sat night from Texas or Tennessee without having to drive up on Fire Tower Hill to tune it in.

Now you can't get AM on your dial. Oh, it's there, but we have become so used to cars that are built around sound system, we ignore it. The Atlanta Braves, bless they little hearts, put out a radio guide including a host of AM stations, but I defy you to find one on Sunday afternoon on the road when you want to listen to the Braves

The ultimate listening experience in those days was 45 rpm record player under the dash...spring loaded, so as not to skip. Expensive, and not very successful...but LOTS of kudos there! Buddy Holly's singing Peggy Sue, anytime your main squeeze wanted to hear it!

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