(By Adrian Zupp) I was just editing an interview that Editor-in-Chief Ed Ryan conducted with an industry notable, and it occurred to me that I’ve been hearing a lot of reminiscing from radio folk recalling childhood nights, lying awake in bed listening to their DJ “friends” as their transistor radio’s tuning dial glowed in the dark.
It’s such a universal thing. Feeling connected to radio personalities, and how those memories can stick in your head forever.
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and it was the same. I had my little trannie in bed at night (in those days it was slang for “transistor radio”) listening to the music I was so passionate about and that became a huge part of my life and later career. For some reason, I even used to listen to the calming voice of “Father Jim McClaren” late on Sunday nights, even though I wasn’t Catholic, or even a halfway decent Protestant. (My mother would remind me a dozen times a day that I’d done something that qualified me for hell. Some things do stay the same.) There was something soothing in his voice. He was kind. And he was always there on Sunday nights like clockwork, helping people. Connection.
I grew up in the 60s so I remember the Beatles mop-top days, “All the Way with LBJ” when the president of the time visited Sydney, the Vietnam War, Elvis (knew all the words to all the songs), and hot Aussie days when anything was possible. And the radio was always around. The first radio song that stuck in my memory forever was “Winchester Cathedral,” a catchy-quirky number by The New Vaudeville Band, released in 1966. I would hear it every morning as I got ready for school, crooning out of the oversized shelf-radio stuffed with tubes. Just recently, I was in Trader Joe’s with my son and they played it. Why I do not know, but for a moment I was back in 1966. Let’s see the pay-for-plays do that.
We didn’t have Sony’s Walkman or Apple’s iPods or smartphones. Just these hand-sized “trannies.” The cool high school kids walked around with them pressed hard to their ear, as ubiquitous as the back-pocket comb. Magic.
I used to hang mine on my handle bars as I peddled full-pelt around the western suburbs on my “treadly,” getting into trouble, “hunting” lizards if I found a patch of bush, dodging snakes, and enjoying those days of innocence with my mates.
As we grew into teens we amassed huge record collections. Alice Cooper, T-Rex, Slade, the Stones, Black Sabbath, Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Elton, Neil Young (the surfies loved Neil), Zepp, New York Dolls, Deep Purple… believe me, I could go on and on and on. And how did we know about these exotic bands from distant lands? The radio clued us in! And they even had the charts in the newspaper. We’d go downtown and flip through the record racks (how I miss that) and fork over $5.95 for a copy of Bad Company or School’s Out or Piledriver or some Acca Dacca (that’s AC/DC to you). We favored hard rock over pop, which kind of reflected the tough part of town we grew up in. We could relate.
The first FM to hit Sydney was Triple J, which opened its mikes in January of 1975. We didn’t know what the hell “FM” was but this station was like nothing else. It was (very loosely) government run, which meant there were zero ads and the DJs could play what they wanted and pretty much run amok. You give that license to a pack of rock-obsessed Aussies and it’ll be on for young and old. The jocks expressed their real their personalities. It was like music and comedy and talking to your mates all rolled together. And they were finding music the Hits stations didn’t. They played 70s album tracks, not singles, and in the ‘80s they “discovered” the likes of the Cars, Elvis Costello, and Talking Heads. And nothing was censored. Occasionally governments do something good, I guess.
Here at Radio Ink we cover all the news on consolidation, deregulation, syndication, the debate over ads, and stations without a physical presence in their own home towns. Some folks like the direction radio is going, others not so much. I think it has lost something in this super-tech age where your entire life and music can fit in your phone (man, that’s Jetsons stuff!) and dividends to shareholders are the ultimate guiding force for the behemoth companies. That said, there still isn’t anything like radio. And live-and-local does still exist. Pandora never made a witty comment about some current event then told you they’d see you at the same time tomorrow. And Triple J never asked us to pay subs.
And above all, you just know that tonight, in cities and tiny towns across this lower 48 and beyond, where trannies have been replaced by the iPhone and Alexa, there are still kids who listen to their local jock who’s playing those songs just for them. And that’s magic.
Adrian Zupp is an editor with Radio Ink. He migrated to the U.S. in 1995 and is a former regular contributor to Inside Sport (Australia), and has written for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Las Vegas Weekly, Boston Phoenix and others.