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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