Radio Nights, 2010
A lot of people my age grew up listening to transistor radios under the covers when we were supposed to be asleep or doing homework.
I was captivated by radio. Admittedly, I was pretty naïve as a kid. A lot of what I couldn’t pick up from my friends at school—a dubious source for life lessons, to be sure—I learned from listening to the radio. It was all there. Music of all kinds, sports, news, drama and comedy.
There were a couple of old console radios in the house, the kind you see in old pictures with Grandma and Grandpa gathered around them to listen to Fibber McGhee or Franklin Roosevelt and Fala. I quickly transitioned from those to the first generation of transistor radios, which not only had the caché of supposedly being one of the first consumer products spun off from the space program, but also came with a single earphone, a distinct advantage when you’re trying to be secretive about your listening.
When I was in sixth or seventh grade I received a nice AM/FM box radio for Christmas. (If you’re a child of Depression-era parents, Christmas gifts tended to include practical things like winter coats, oranges and radios.) It was handsome and modern, encased in a rich wooden veneer the color of dark honey. It was probably the last generation of radios with glass tubes and rotary dials connected to strings behind the radio’s face that moved the little station selector up and down the spectrum. It was more powerful than any radio I’d had before and pulled in not only the rich resonance of a few local FM stations but also AM “super stations” up and down the East Coast and out into the Midwest.
In my teenage years I started doing my homework while listening to the DJ known as “Cousin Brucie” on New York’s WABC-AM, the most powerful radio station on the East Coast. Cousin Brucie was to East Coast kids what Wolfman Jack was to American Graffiti, a big loud garrulous guy playing Top 40 hits and sending out dedications to hormonal teenagers everywhere. In 1965 it was Cousin Brucie who introduced the Beatles at their famous Shea Stadium concert.
Cousin Brucie’s still around. I always pictured him as a short, rotund guy, Stubby Kaye with a deep voice. But in fact he looks nothing like that, and from recent pictures I can only surmise that he was in his late twenties when I started listening to him. These days you can hear him on the 60s channel on Sirius satellite radio, which within the musical firmament puts him somewhere between Casey Kasem and elevator music. It’s just not the same listening to him today, what without platters to spin and no dedications to Annette in Teaneck, Gloria in Brighton Beach and a girl in Norfolk who didn’t even know that I liked her.