Christmas has come and gone for another year, but some gifts you never forget.
50 years ago, for Christmas 1969, Santa brought a radio. Yep, that Panasonic RF-930 AM-FM radio. It changed and shaped my life.
I took it upstairs to my bedroom and set it on top of my filing cabinet. I tuned in WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee, one of the great Top 40 AM stations of the era, and started digging all kinds of pop, soul, R&B and rock. I can’t think of many more exciting times to listen live to the Top 40 than 1970 and 1971.
— One night, without asking my parents’ permission, I quietly made a long-distance call to WOKY because I could win a record if I was the right caller and knew the answer to a certain question. I knew that Creedence Clearwater Revival started out as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs. I won the record. A couple of weeks later, my record arrived. It was an obscure record sent to DJs. I had never heard of Bob Summers. Certainly not on WOKY. Yeah, just slightly disappointed. I no longer have the record I won, but I did buy another copy years later.
— WOKY ran a contest to get petitions to try to persuade the Beatles to not break up. One of my junior high classmates gathered signatures for one such petition. If memory serves, she won some kind of prize for her efforts.
— WOKY’s morning DJ, whom I could listen to only during the summer and during school vacations, was Bob Barry. It was quite a kick to hear some of his stories and meet him at a book signing last year.
My other regular stop was WTMJ, Radio 620. “Packers, Badgers, Brewers, Bucks! Hear ’em all on WTMJ, Milwaukee.” At night, when the clear channels were crystal clear, I’d surf the AM dial for distant baseball and basketball games.
Not long after Christmas 1971, we moved, and I switched over to FM — yep, it was AM, then FM.
WIFC, the Big 95 out of Wausau, Wisconsin, was a tremendous small-market station during the ’70s, Top 40 during the day and free form after 9 or 10 p.m. Those free-form hours, jam-packed with deep album cuts, introduced me to so much great rock and, yes, even some pretty cool jazz.
When I was a high school senior in 1975, I spent a cold February morning with WIFC’s morning DJ. I sat in on his show to write a feature for the school paper. Ten years ago, I reconnected with Bruce Charles and interviewed him again. That three-part story is here, here and here.
From 1970 to 1977, that radio was my constant companion while at home.
Then I got my first stereo system, and its receiver pretty much took the radio’s place. (For the record, that stereo consisted of a BIC 940 belt-drive turntable, an Akai AA-1010 receiver and Atlantis speakers.)
In the late ’70s, I took that radio with me when I went to shoot baskets. I’d set it at the base of the hoop while I played. It took a few shots from balls that came straight down off the rim. One such wayward shot bent the antenna. It eventually broke, so there’s long been just a stub of an antenna. I’ll forever associate the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP with that radio. In the summer of 1978, it sat at the base of the hoop at the park and the Stones poured out of it.
50 years on, I still have that radio, and I still listen to it.
On fine summer days, I set it out on the patio, sit in the sun and listen to the Brewers. During football season since at least the ’90s, I set it next to me in the rec room during Packers games, turn off the TV sound and tune in the Packers Radio Network.
If there’s one song that demonstrates how that radio changed my life, it’s the Jackson 5’s take on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.” It blew my 13-year-old mind when I heard it for the first time on WOKY at Christmas time in 1970. I had no idea there were pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. What a magical thing.
Truth be told, though, I haven’t listened to music on that radio for a long time. But I still hear it.