Radio is a part of us. It's interwoven with our history and culture of the past 100 years. Every minute of every hour of every day, radio strives to cut through the daily clatter to capture our attention. Its purpose is to engage and enlighten us of the various ideas, opinions, and attitudes of others. Radio gives us the power of knowledge and seeks to expand our worldview. It is a medium that also aims to entertain us with the beauty of music and the excitement of interaction. It ultimately satisfies our need for human contact. As such, radio is everywhere.
Radio was certainly there for me at the age of 12. You remember being 12 - that period when we are no longer a child, but not quite an adult. It was then that I discovered radio’s power, and it was a transformative experience for me. My first radio was a small, pocket-sized battery-operated transistor unit my parents bought for me as a present from a retailer with an apt name: Radio Shack. It was the summer of 1983 and growing up (for me anyway) was a childhood filled with riding bikes, building forts, playing video games, swimming in pools, Wiffle Ball tournaments, flashlight tag, and so much more. And my little Radio Shack branded battery-powered radio provided the soundtrack to my adventures.
While growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia during the ’80s, the music station of choice for my friends and I was Hot Hits 98 WCAU-FM. It was a time when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” first thrilled the unsuspecting public. Irene Cara was making a splash with “Flashdance”, and the haunting synthesized drone of the Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams are Made of These” echoed in the corners of every place you went. It was also a time when radio disc jockeys were just as memorable as the jams they played. Hot Hits air personalities like Glenn Kalina, Christy Springfield, and morning man Terry Young (aka “the Motormouth”) encouraged me to tune in - multiple times a day - to catch their coolness, their lunacy, and of course, their “hottest hits”. Occasionally, they even promised me the opportunity of possibly winning the latest vinyl records, video game cartridges, or even up to “$1,000 dollars in hot cash!” Sadly, I never won any of that stuff.
Hot Hits 98 WCAU-FM even influenced my actions. Every Saturday morning, my friends and I pedaled our BMX bikes all the way down to the local shopping mall to pick up free printed flyers of their “Weekly Hot Hit Survey” (see below). It turns out that the weekly countdown flyers were “exclusively available only at Wall to Wall Sound and Video stores throughout the Delaware Valley”. Not only did we learn what songs Glenn, Christy, and Terry were going to be play on the countdown that week (so we could record them on our tape recorder-equipped “boom boxes” at home), but every week, the store also seemed to have some item or trinket that I so desperately needed to buy. One week, I got a Star Wars t-shirt. Another week saw me bring home a refrigerator magnet of the Police’s album Synchronicity. I continued to make near-weekly buys of various stickers, patches, and posters. It was only when I purposely saved my allowance or got a fistful of birthday cash that I purchased an actual album.
Of course, I bought all of it and more at Wall to Wall Sound and Video because Glenn, Christy, and Terry on Hot Hits 98 WCAU-FM told me to do so. They were everywhere I was. They were in my house, in the stores, in the shopping mall arcade, and in my small, pocket-sized battery-operated transistor radio my parents bought for me as a present from Radio Shack. It was not a case of trickery or deceit. WCAU did not emit some kind of evil brainwashing signal making me act a certain way. At the tender age of 12, I experienced the power of radio. It was this power that allowed the music of Michael Jackson, The Police and The Eurythmics to help shape my view of the world and introduce me to its popular culture. It was this power that allowed me to feel as if the disc jockeys were my friends, who went with me everywhere. Glenn Kalina’s smoothness, Christy Springfield’s enthusiasm and Terry “The Motormouth” Young’s zaniness inspired me to seek out their influence and made me feel I was part of the culture they represented. I aspired to be just like them. It was this power that convinced me to journey every week to the local sound and video shop and buy the things that, even today, I still hold dear.