Monday, February 25, 2013

“Radio Fan”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Yesterdazed - 1967.
I don’t remember much about the holiday season that year. But two presents that Santa brought during the Yuletide celebration would affect my life for years to come. One was a Schwinn “Banana Bike.” The other was a cream-colored transistor radio.
The Schwinn offered mobility in a physical sense, something important for a six-year-old kid. But the radio offered the ability to travel in a different sense – on invisible airwaves that spanned the country.
I’d had a radio before that day, one designed to sit on a tabletop. It plugged into a wall outlet, and offered good reception. But my Xmas gift was the “iPod” of that generation. It provided genuine portability and privacy. And at night, it would pick up stations located many states away from my home in rural, southeastern Ohio.
Because there was no Internet, or network of cellular phones, the transistor radio provided a sort of connectivity that was impossible to find elsewhere. In those yonder days, television stations still signed off at night. But radio was alive, into the wee hours.
Being a “night owl” meant that I was frequently awake long after everyone else in the household had gone to bed. With the accessory earphone, private listening was easy.
I spun the thumbwheel tuner excitedly – and entered on a voyage of broadcasting discovery. Voices echoed from the stratosphere. I began to realize that America was a vast nation, brimming with diversity.
Years later, a three-year pause in the Pittsburgh area offered a glimpse of “talk radio” as it used to be, before the advent of political punditry. On KDKA, the combination of Roy Fox/John Cigna/Perry Marshall offered a multi-hour marathon of chatter that lasted from the evening until daybreak. I spent many nights doing school homework assignments while they argued with callers, in the background.
Predictably, much of my listening time was focused on music, as I grew older. But then, the appeal of “talk radio” reappeared.
This siren call came from WTAM 1100, in Cleveland.
Mike Trivisonno was the ratings champion. But the station offered many other talented talkers – from bombastic Bruce Drennan to the late Rick Gilmour.
Eventually, I found myself seeking out other drive-time alternatives. But my late-hours work schedule meant that the typical fare had already passed. So as in those yonder days, I began to spin the tuning dial. What I discovered was a new wealth of “opinionators” for hire:


William Wolf “Bill” Handel is a lawyer by profession. His morning show runs locally, in Los Angeles, on KFI 640 in the mornings. But on the weekend, he is syndicated nationally, by Premiere Radio Networks. I normally find his program on WRVA 1140, from Richmond, Virginia. Handel claims to offer “marginal legal advice, where I tell you that you have no case.” His show is both informative and entertaining, in the rapid-fire style best suited to this genre. A look at his Wikipedia page indicates a past filled with some episodes of controversy and political commentary. But in my own limited experience, he has offered only straightforward legal pontification.


I first encountered Hendrie over ten years ago. While driving home from my workplace in Chardon, I spun the radio dial to WKBN 570, out of Youngstown. The voice I heard was like the muted crinkle of worn sandpaper. He used the hip jargon of an earlier era and bantered with guests who sounded vaguely like himself. But callers to his program offered genuine contrast. In only a few minutes, this odd brand of radio theater began to make sense. Hendrie’s role as host AND guests provided an epiphany – interacting with himself when debating topics on-the-air was much like a writer who pens multiple characters. Since then Hendrie has retired, tried various projects, and returned to the airwaves. His availability on WKBN is spotty, in modern terms. But his work is easily available in cyberspace.


David Zeplowitz offers conservative talk combined with a genuine love for cigars. He calls himself “The General” and his fans “Cigar Lieutenants” though no actual military background is mentioned in his biography. He cheerfully offers a greeting of “long ashes” to those who call the show, and the tagline is repeated in response, much like Rush Limbaugh’s famous “Megadittos.” Dave speaks in neo-Libertarian terms about enhancing and enjoying personal freedoms like tobacco and alcohol use. His knowledge of cigars and distilled spirits is immense. I have enjoyed listening to his work on WKBN 570, on Sunday evenings, though that time slot on the station is currently filled by other programming.


During a recent Saturday afternoon on WKBN 570, Host Joe Danyi offered helpful advice for listeners who were facing computer woes. From a technical standpoint, the show was useful. But most entertaining were the callers themselves. A recent citizen caller spoke about being “bumped off of AOL to Yay-hoo” no matter how he tried to avoid that glitch.


WTAM 1100 has used this program as filler during weekend afternoons. So its availability can be unpredictable. But when on the air, host Dave Ramos dependably provides commentary and “bumper” music trivia, along with the virtual garage sale, itself. Listening has proven to be more fun than one might believe possible. Kudos are deserved by the station for keeping this program on-air.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

“Robinson’s Planet”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A recent episode in the Icehouse brought back memories of my grandparents’ farm in Columbus, and a long-gone television program.
After what had been a relatively mild winter, our area was besieged with heavy snowfall and a harsh breath of bitter cold. Overnight, the air turned undeniably frosty.
This drastic dip in temperature caused the water supply at my rural home to go stagnant with ice. I awoke on Tuesday morning to discover that my kitchen faucet was frozen. Indeed, the entire house had been disabled. Washing machine, bathrooms, and even the outside spigot.  
Coping with this situation required bringing in water from alternate sources. I remembered filling our tub with snow, during past episodes, to melt and provide flushing capability. But for the moment, I relied on gallons purchased at Giant Eagle.
My grandparents had depended on an outside pump, located on their back porch. The farmhouse where they lived had never boasted running water. An enameled basin, with a long-handled ladle, held water for inside use. There was a single sink built into the countertop, with a drain. When hot water was required, it came from a teakettle.
I replicated this primitive routine on the frozen tundra of Thompson.
While using the bottled liquid in miserly fashion, I still managed to consume six gallons per day. By the end of the week, boxes and empty jugs were piled all over my living room. Yet I managed to cook food, wash dishes and clothes, and perform a sort of personal absolution – all with my regular water supply still held in stasis.
In desperation, I tried using a portable electric heater to thaw my in-ground hydrant. The tactic had worked well in previous years. But Mother Nature kept her environmental thermostat dialed far below freezing. There was no budging the ice blockage below my floorboards.
It made me think of a classic TV episode where wandering astronauts encountered a planet given to extremes of blistering heat and numbing cold. I had seen the show as a young child:

Lost In Space – “The Hungry Sea” (1965)

The Robot: “Outside temperature: 59 degrees Fahrenheit and rising.”
Dr. Zachary Smith: “I've known people to make conversation about the weather, but this is ridiculous.”
Maj. Don West: “You know, I've got a feeling this stuff's got a message for us if we could only read it.”
Judy Robinson: “What is it?”
Maj. Don West: “Well, it's just a piece of vegetation.”
Prof. John Robinson: “We found lots of this frozen solid in the ground.”
Maureen Robinson: “Well, it looks as though it's been charred.”
Prof. John Robinson: “It has.”
Maureen Robinson: “Burned and then frozen?”
Prof. John Robinson: “Mm-hm.”
Maureen Robinson: “Well, that doesn't make sense, does it?”
Prof. John Robinson: “Darling, very little on this planet makes sense, by Earth standard.”
Maj. Don West: “I hope you're not gonna pay attention to anything from that robot.”
Prof. John Robinson: “We'd better. This is orbital data on this planet.”
Maj. Don West: [laughs derisively] “Who's data? Smith's!”
Prof. John Robinson: “It explains everything - the terrible cold and sudden rise in temperature. Here, look.”
Prof. John Robinson: [sticks two pegs in the sand then draws around them] “Here's this planet. This is its sun. Now the orbit of this planet is nothing like the Earth's orbit. It's a flat ellipse, and the sun isn't in the center. It's over here on this leg.”
Will Robinson: “Then we must have been at this end, away from the sun. That means we're heading in back in close to it now, is that what Dr. Smith tried to warn us about?”
Prof. John Robinson: “That's right, Will. In a matter of hours we're gonna be in danger of roasting alive. And there's no time to get back to the ship. We're gonna have to build a shelter right here!”

My arctic angst could not be hidden. But then, when a week had passed and more, the weather forecast changed. Like the planet found by Professor Robinson, my Geauga County home was about to grow warmer.
On Monday afternoon, I discovered that the master bedroom’s toilet tank was suddenly full. A quick run to my kitchen confirmed the thaw – WATER AT LAST!
I had just asked my sister if it would be okay to do a load of laundry at her house. Feeling victorious with the crystal stream dribbling out of my kitchen faucet, I took an iPhone picture.
The photo went out in a text message. “Water at last!” I repeated. “Water, water, water!”
One day later, it was 57 degrees outside. My yard became a sea of mushy white and trickling streams. The circular, brick garden in front of our house had reappeared from under a mountain of snow.
Yet the projected low in only twenty-four hours was 16 degrees.
Once again, it seemed, we were back on Robinson’s planet.

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