In 1977 two things happened that changed my life. #1- I turned 15 and for that birthday (among other things) I received a clock-radio. Faux-wood sheathing, bright red digital display, and most importantly an AM-FM radio powerful enough to pull in stations from the city. (New York City, duh!) Believe it or not, FM was just becoming a thing. Hard to imagine in this world 40 years later when I can shoot a text to Tokyo and get an instant reply, but in the late 1970s FM radio was new. It was sleek. FM was hip and almost as wild and free as the internet was in the aughts. After a childhood listening to Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie and that bad boy Imus on the AM powerhouses WABC and WNBC this new FM thing felt almost subversive.
The new stations- WPDH (from Poughkeepsie of all places!) and my fave, WPLJ 95.5, played pop stuff but not only pop stuff. WPDH took chances on smaller releases and lesser known bands and built a devoted audience of musical rebels (and snobs) who knew what was cool before the cool acts went mainstream. And WPLJ? They concentrated on hometown heroes. And if not natives the acts that Hilly Kristal allowed on stage at CBGBs. Thus I heard The Ramones, Television, and the Talking Heads slightly ahead of their popular exposure.
But mostly? Mostly WPLJ did two things- they played cuts from Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’ album, and on Sunday nights they hosted call-in advice shows. Those shows taught me A LOT about life. My favorite host was Father Bill. He left the priesthood about halfway through his tenure as an on-air advice giver, and for me this solidified his cred as one who can advise how to live. The man left a lifetime gig with housing, health benefits, and a guaranteed income, to say nothing of the extras like a housekeeper, access to the Pope, and a steady stream of dinner invites by the parish’s best cooks. Bill doffed his collar because he truly believed his life’s work was in a different direction. Obviously this was a guy who’d put quite a bit of thought and soul searching into how to live the best life.
Anyway, I’d be there in the dark in my icy bedroom (thermostat set at 50* on the ground floor and my room was over the unheated garage too) rolled up in the comforter listening to WPLJ and Carol Miller’s whiskey rasp and Annie Leamy’s demented joy about her wedding, and of course, Father Bill on my clock-radio. Those voices in the night interspersed with Bruce, the B-52s, and always, always Billy Joel were/are such a touchstone.
Do I expect you will totally understand this post? Not a bit. What I do expect is that you will apply it to your own memories. Remember and tell me about your songs and DJs and private music and voices. In your room or through your earbuds or your car’s speakers.
Or in the words of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s version of Lester Bangs…
Btw? I still have that clock-radio. Knocked to the floor hundreds of times. Abused, misused, moved halfway across the country and back again while in continuous service for the last 40 YEARS and aside from one of the time set buttons being finicky it works just as well as it did as when I unboxed it and set it on my nightstand back in the 9th grade. Well done, General Electric!
Here we are waving Brenda and Eddie good-bye, ~LA