Monday, June 26, 2006

The Mnemonic FM

When I was 12, I had a small, brown, Panasonic clock radio in my bedroom. I don't remember how long I had it or how I'd acquired it, but it sat on a chair or a plastic table next to my bed. It was about a foot wide and half as deep and weighed maybe two pounds. On the top of its earthy, puke-brown, casing were three tiny buttons to adjust the clock, one button about the length of a thumb for that great gift to mankind called snooze. Three switches on top selected AM/FM, Alarm On/Off, and the Radio/Buzzer alarm features. The green, digital, display was so bright I had to turn it away so I could get to sleep. A large knob on the right side of the box adjusted the frequency, and a tiny black knob on top for the volume. Don’t ask why I felt compelled to describe it, kuz even I don’t know. Anyway, it now sits on my parents' kitchen table where it's permanently stuck on 91.9FM, WUOT - National Public Radio. REPRESENT!

I’m gona flash back to when E V E R Y O N E listened to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice - except for me. It was before my peers at Jefferson Middle picked up on Live and Nirvana. As I recall, it was before anyone had, and that was the beauty of it. Nothing was cool yet, at least not in my mind. We all know I tend to either shoot ahead or lag behind contemporary thinking but never comfortably settle into it. Back then was the only time I remember being totally free to choose what I liked on my own terms. I didn't know a damn thing about popular music or culture back then and still don’t today. And it all stretches back to those puerile days where my only exposure to music outside of NPR was that little brown radio next to my bed. I used to dial in to 94.3 or maybe 98.6 for a couple hours while trying to fall asleep. I did it every night for about three years. They never played the stuff I could see on MTV in the afternoons. At least that’s how I remember it.

Every time I go home, I see that radio sitting on the kitchen table. On Saturday mornings, Dad makes eggs and we listen to Car Talk and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR. Most of the time we don’t talk, we just listen. Sometimes I think back to lying in my bed at midnight when Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life would come on while the late-night DJ tagged out and the early-morning dude came in. It's one of the reasons I love that movie so much - not only because it's good comedy, but because of the song. Sound is the second best trigger of memory next to smell; those were good times.

Recently I heard a snippet of a song they used to play that jostled a loose bit fruit floating around the jello pudding I call my brain. It was a cover a song by 70’s band, The Five Stairsteps, called Ooh Child. I'm sure you know how it goes, and if you know what group did the cover, I'd appreciate if you would throw that knowledge my way. Then again, it could all have been a dream. Anyway, back in those days, it used to come on between 10 and 11pm. I remember a 10-15 minute break from music where the female DJ (with a voice so sexy it could turn one had to imagine she cut her teeth in the phone sex biz) would divulge her opinion on one thing or another or tell a story. She never took calls, if I remember correctly. She just talked and I fucking loved it.

It's an obscure memory, I know. And I don't really know why I got started on this, but I'm glad I did. It makes me sad that the radio has gone to shit. It makes me very very sad. I’m sure there are those out there who said it went to shit long before the 90’s, and I don’t think they’re entirely wrong to think that way. But I really do miss that brown radio and affect it had on me.


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