I started listening to the radio before I was in grade school.
My mom had a small plastic AM radio clock that she put on top of our refrigerator.
When she was on the phone in her bedroom, I would push a chair against the fridge, turn it on, and search through the stations.
I settled on WABC, the top forty station broadcasting out of New York City. It was our hometown station because the city started just one block from my house.
After a few weeks of this, my mom got tired of turning the dial back on her station, WNEW and The Make-Believe Ballroom. She bought a new radio and gave the GE clock radio to me.
The new radio did not have to go up on the refrigerator; I had my own.
I put the radio on the windowsill of my bedroom. At night I would listen to music while I looked out at the windows of the other apartment houses and wonder what the tenets were doing. I watched cars go by in the street and wondered where they were off to in the dark of the city. I watched the older kids running around in the street and wondered what they were up to.
But my attention was focused when I heard “My Girl” for the first time. It was more than sunshine on a cloudy day. It was like finding something I never realized I couldn’t live without. Every time I heard that song it was the same first time magic.
After that, I was constantly dragging my mom to the store to buy 45s.
A few years later, I heard “Round About” by Yes. It was the bass line that blew me away, but the whole song had sincerity, energy and great playing. Strangely enough, it was not Motown. Shortly after that, “Reelin’ In the Years” by Steely Dan appeared out of nowhere. It was that guitarwork that blew me away this time. I never heard anything like that on top forty either.
One evening when I should have been in bed, I heard a DJ named Gene Shepard. He did not play any music; he told stories, oddball stories. They were really cool because I felt like he was telling them just to me.
Late into the night, I could not stop listening to that voice coming out of the radio.
Then my friend’s older brother told me about FM radio.
Stations were playing entire album sides on FM radio.
The hip crowd was listening to cool jazz, and free-form jazz on FM radio.
University professors from Fordham and NYU with elbow patches on their tweed sport coats were listening to entire symphonies on FM radio.
You could listen to news from around the world on FM radio.
After that, I was constantly dragging my mom to the store to buy albums that I could play on my dad’s KLH wood-trimmed turntable.
When we moved out of the city into the country, I scraped enough money together to buy my own FM radio.
I could not find Gene Shepard in that universe on the dial, but I found Vin Scelsa on WNEW. He played extended versions and live versions of those new rock songs I was listening to. He told oddball stories too.
My radio world was changed forever.
I was changed forever.
Those two and half minute miracles I was buying from the record store were just distant memories as I plowed headlong into the King Biscuit Flour Hour, The Hearts of Space, and New Sounds on WNYC. At about at the end of my radio listening career the Schickele Mix was a favorite.
Those days may be long gone, but the memories they constructed in that universe in my head will always be there.
I can still recall the radio blaring out the segway of Scelsa’s “The Heroes of Rock and Roll” into Springsteen’s “Born To Run” as I drive home from work in my light blue VW Beetle.
Yes, that was an epic, sonic journey from the top of the refrigerator to Schickele Mix. It is a journey I cherish to this moment.