I’m not the last generation to grow up on radio, but I’m pretty sure I will be one of the last. While listening to the Journey CD of the same name today, I suddenly realized my youngest daughter will almost certainly not be raised by radio, and that made me a bit sad. Most adults cherish their childhood and think it looks pretty awesome through the lens of nostalgia. I’m no different. Music meant a lot to me as a kid (and still does as an old-ish fart, of course), and my memories of it growing up are like a tasty warm mental pretzel to me, salty and delicious.
Hell, I’m old enough (just like that annoying guy from Everclear) to remember when AM radio stations played music, and weren’t just full of political and sports blowhards. When I was a kid we had a swimming pool – yes, we were middle-class – and we had a stereo console near it that looked a bit like this:
If me and my brothers were going swimming, that sucker was cranked and we had glorious stereo sound. True, sometimes it was glorious AM sound from KFI or the Mighty Six-Ninety, but it was still loud and scratchy and groovy. Radio back then – late 70s and early-to-mid-80s – really was like the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati; to verify that all you have to do is look at a KTEL (the original NOW! compilations) record from the time. KISS, Elton John, Molly Hatchet, KC and the Sunshine Band, James Taylor, all on the same record. Now KFI give us Bill Handel (yay!) and Rush Limbaugh (boooooo!) (and I’m not saying Booooooo-urns) and 690 AM gives us…well, I don’t know what it is now but it was sports for a while.
My first music purchases were a Beach Boys record (the horrible 15 Big Ones! but I loved it back then) and Highway to Hell on a bootleg 8-track I got at the Four Points swap meet, which is now a “Mexican” swap meet. I got into the Beach Boys because my mom had one of their records, and AC/DC because of my oldest brother and a ride home from a school janitor who played it in his Celica. Damn, that was rad! They were swearing!
After I moved on from KFI I found KMET and KLOS. Before it changed to lights-out jazz, KMET kicked ass. KLOS came in second but it was a close second; KMET just had a cool factor that KLOS lacked. To me, at least; evidently KMET didn’t match ratings with KLOS, hence the format change. Eventually KLOS won the rock battle and even eventually-er they switched to that most horrible of genres, classic rock. Fuck you, KLOS. I can’t listen to you anymore.
Sometimes I got lucky and could pick up the exotic stations from further down the coast: KGB, 91X, and KROQ. KGB was a KLOS clone, but it came from San Diego so I was always infatuated with it; the extra distance the signal had to travel to get to me made it cooler. KROQ was my brother Bob’s station and I didn’t like much of the music on it at the time. Same with 91X, although it had the San Diego cachet. Weird was OK if it came from San Diego.
As I hit my teens, I found hard rock and hair metal and I was hooked. This coincided with the launch of the mighty KNAC, which kicked KLOS’s ass like it was a big step-brother to KLOS that didn’t like them. The only problem was, the signal wasn’t strong enough to reach Lancaster, so I only got to listen to it when I ventured through the hills to LA. To me, KNAC was like a hot chick with a sweet rack compared to the mousy girl that was KLOS. About that time Pirate Radio also came to LA, and it was a cross between KLOS and KNAC. I could get it in Lancaster, so it was a decent pacifier until I could get to LA.
I have all these memories of listening to radio and the radio stations I loved as a kid. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that KMET also gave us in the LA area Dr. Demento, which was a blessing to a nerdy boy like me. All of this, my daughter won’t have. Radio stations no longer have personalities nor do they inspire loyalty. More than ever they seem designed to suck the most money out of advertisers and therefore are focused on playing it safe. Safe sucks for radio. I want my Dr. Johnny Fever, my Fraiser Smith, my DJs who made me believe they believed in the music. My daughter won’t get them.
I feel a bit sad for her, even while I enjoy my memories. Music isn’t the same for her as it was for me. However, I have hope every time we sing (or, she sings and I try to sing) “Take on Me” together on XM Radio. Maybe when she’s my age she’ll remember XM like I do KNAC. I hope so. Kids deserve that.