Jay Meehan: Radio and I
October 13, 2015
As one whose misspent youth transpired for the most part amid the then-culturally-rural hinterlands of the Idaho panhandle, radio became my drug of choice.
Early on, all I would have to do was lick the bottom of the antenna suction cup that came with my Hopalong Cassidy receiver and stick it to my basement bedroom window, rotate the on-off switch/volume knob clockwise and, in an early manifestation of warp speed, enter an alternate universe.
It was a flat-out rush! I found that little box to be nothing short of magic! Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes were in there. As were the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Lash Larue, Red Ryder, the Three Mesquiteers, and Sam Spade, fedora and trench coat intact, emerging from the fog on the trail of evil and corruption.
Notre Dame football and the Brooklyn Dodgers inhabited adjacent locker rooms. I still listen to Dodger games on radio via the Internet. That particular magic has never waned. Drugs are like that. The fact that, sooner or later, I might require rehab, however, never occurred to me.
This was the dawn of white America getting turned on to R&B, and before you could say "Sam Phillips is on to something," Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison were mainstream. Not to mention Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
It seemed like rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country and rockabilly were all part of the same radio-programming format back then. We couldn’t pull in those faraway stations from the big cities and the south, however, so, unlike Dylan in Hibbing, we would have to wait until later to learn the blues from Son House, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. In those days, I found little to dislike about radio. That would change.
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Geographical relocations continually demanded the scouring of the dial for those particular stations that could best "feed my jones." Los Angeles radio, not surprisingly, held previously unimaginable audio bounties to the small-town kid. The sub-genres of jazz and rock alone were enough to put the selection process into gridlock.
Then came the ’60s and free-form radio programming broadcast, mainly, via the theretofore mostly vacant Frequency Modulated (FM) band of the electromagnetic spectrum. West Coast stations such as KSAN-FM in San Francisco and KPPC-FM in L.A. gave the burgeoning counterculture community radio outlets to call their own.
This led to the early ’70s and my short-lived but ecstatic career in the radio biz. Hired by KMOR, a low-on-the-food-chain country music AM (Amplitude Modulated) outlet down in the valley (the valley so low), I was allowed somewhat free reign to program a show in my own image during the late-night hours.
Encompassing much of the country music sub-genres of bluegrass, old timely, blues, roadhouse, honky-tonk, country-rock, and those progressive strains that would become associated with the "Austin Sound," the format attracted a small but ardent following. It also attracted the wrath of the sales department.
We argued, they and I. Radio was not an educational medium, they continually informed me. Doc Watson, Ernest Tub, and Willie & Waylon weren’t attracting their target demographic. It may have been their career but it was my drug, I attempted to explain. They won, of course. The show was unceremoniously shut down.
A few of the station’s newer staff, with Blair Feulner at the helm and including my radio mentor, Dan Wilcox, chose to abandon ship and create KPCW-FM in Park City, a "community station" up in the mountains (the mountains so high). Of course, we all, as it turned out, had different dreams as to how the station would and should evolve.
Although it appeared at the outset that grassroots support would drive programming, it soon became evident, well above and beyond station overhead, that this, too, would be all about money. It also became evident that I needed to find another drug. Radio no longer provided the fix.
This is not to say I’m not totally enamored with KPCW, its staff, and programming. Over-the-top integrity and creativity flow throughout the organization, and what they do should make Park City proud. What I’m saying is that radio should never have been my drug of choice.
Even satellite radio, which arrived with such promise, has been diluted by mergers and continually comes up short. What can I say? When I click the radio dial anymore, the rush is gone.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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