Confessions of a Listener
Why I still love radio
Sean Tubridy / www.blueoverblue.com
I am old enough to be nostalgic about radio, having grown up when it was a stately medium and we listened to Journeys in Musicland with Professor E.B. “Pop” Gordon teaching us the musical scale, and the guest on The Poetry Corner was Anna Hempstead Branch, who read her sonnet cycle, “Ere the Golden Bowl Is Broken,” and the gospel station brought us Gleanings from the Word, with the whispery Reverend Riley trudging patiently through the second chapter of Leviticus, and at night there were Fibber and Molly and Amos and Andy and the Sunset Valley Barn Dance with Pop Wiggins (“Says here that radio’s gonna take the place of newspapers. I doubt it. Y’can’t swat a fly with a radio.”), but I don’t feel a hankering to hear any of it ever again. I am rather fond of radio as it is today, full of oddities and exceptions. It is an unmanageable medium. Management is at work trying to format things, but reality keeps breaking through the bars. You twiddle the dial, and in the midst of the clamor and blare and rackety commercials you find a human being speaking to you in a way that intrigues you and lifts your spirits, such as a few weeks ago when a man spoke about his mother, in Houston, who as she was dying of lung cancer made a video for her severely retarded daughter to watch in years to come, which the daughter does not watch, being too retarded to comprehend death, which in itself is a mercy. It was very graceful, a fellow American telling a story unlike all the other stories. Pretty amazing. And all the more so for showing up on a dial full of blathering idiots and jackhammer music.
My taste is catholic; I don’t go looking for people like me (earnest liberal English majors). I am a fan of the preachers on little AM stations in early morning and late at night who sit in a tiny studio in Alabama or Tennessee and patiently explain the imminence of the Second Coming—I grew up with good preaching, and it is an art that, unlike anything I find in theaters, has the power to shake me to my toes. And gospel music is glorious beyond words. I love the mavericks and freethinkers and obsessives who inhabit the low-power FM stations—the feminist bluegrass show, the all-Sinatra show, the Yiddish vaudeville show. Once, on the Merritt Parkway heading for New York, I came upon The American Atheist Hour, the sheer tedium of which was wildly entertaining—there’s nobody so humorless as a devout atheist.
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