Driving home from an evening meeting recently I turned on the car radio, selected the AM band and hit the "seek" button. Because AM signals bounce off the ionosphere at night they travel greater distances, allowing the signals to travel hundreds even thousands of miles.
The radio's "seek" function was stopping frequently; a lot of stations were coming in this night and I recognized many of them from when I was a kid.
Television was in its infancy when I was born and radio was still a popular home entertainment medium. My first memory of a radio is my parents' wood-case cathedral model radio.
Having a brain that handles old information much better than current data, I can remember the day when I was 4-years-old and Dad brought home a used RCA console radio which received AM and a handful of shortwave bands. I'm guessing it was a late 40s model.
Two things I distinctly remember from that day I wanted to play with the radio and Dad did not want me to play with it.
I must have matured sufficiently in the following year because I remember as a 5-year-old being allowed to tune in my own programs. The Lone Ranger was still on the radio and I loved listening.
Musical programming was fun, too. In particular I remember Patti Page singing "How Much is that Doggie in the Window."
In the years before our family acquired a television set, I hurried home from school to the console radio to listen to children's programming on WOI Radio in Ames. Not yet aware that I cannot carry a tune, I loved singing along to "There's a Hole in My Bucket," "Little Ducky Duddle" and "The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."
(Do kids still sing these great songs?)
After supper I enjoyed listening to "The Great Gildersleeve" and other programs, the names of which I can no longer remember.
The used TV Dad purchased in early 1957 quickly grabbed the devotion of the Huisman brothers, but I still enjoyed listening to the old RCA console radio as well.
Most AM radio stations are limited to daylight hours or have to significantly reduce power and/or change their transmitting pattern at night to make room on the broadcast spectrum for the clear channel powerhouses like Des Moines' WHO Radio.
As a teenager, during the daytime and early evening hours, my friends and I listened to KIOA Radio in Des Moines, but when the KIOA Good Guys reduced power at night we tuned in the great rock and roll stations of the era KAAY in Little Rock, KOMA in Oklahoma City, WLS in Chicago and others. I also enjoyed listening to WSM in Nashville.
As I was driving home from that recent evening meeting, I listened for some of those AM powerhouses. Sure enough, there was WSM, WJR in Detroit, WWL in New Orleans, WCCO in Minneapolis, WLS in Chicago, WLW in Cincinnati and others. Even KOA in Denver was coming in strong. Good memories.
All of that childhood interest in radio, by the way, led to my first non-farm job. The county-seat radio station invited students from our small town high school to read school news on the air on Saturday mornings and the task was assigned to several classmates and me.
I was petrified the first time the microphone was turned on. The flies in my stomach were dancing the Jitterbug and all of my saliva evaporated. But I was hooked. The school news gig led to a part time job at the radio station in the spring of my senior year. That eventually led to a full-time job and the first eight years of my career.
Though I've been out of radio for decades and the industry has changed radically, I maintain contact with several friends and acquaintances in the industry and still enjoy talking "shop."
When I get a chance I enjoy tuning across the AM dial at night to see if I can still hear those powerhouse stations.
Meanwhile, I still don't know why that little old lady swallowed a fly