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In Recognition Of National Radio Day

August 20, 2018

I grew up in Hancock, Wisconsin with radio and a daily newspaper in our home.  There was not a television there until I was in 6th grade.  That decision not to have a TV in my youth was perhaps one of their best made during my growing up years.  To honor National Radio Day I want to take my readers back to when I was a boy and marveled about those radio signals from places like Chicago, Nashville, and Pittsburgh which were heard through my radio.   The story is set in my bedroom in the early 1970’s….

I developed in those early days a system for perfect timing and pace for myself as I strove to make my own newscasts sound believable from the bedroom I occupied. It was hard work. I was my own copy editor and producer in those days. In short, I had to be a jack-of-all-trades in my early attempts at broadcast excellence.

My Dad came from that generation where his work-uniform pants had a small pocket about two inches wide and equally as deep where a watch could be slipped. Out in the back entry of our home on the top shelf alongside where his work cap would rest, he would place his pocket watch at the end of his workday.

Dad’s silver-colored timepiece was not a fancy watch with any chain, though it did have a bow. There was no swing-out case to make it showy. It was just a plain utilitarian unit that told the time. (I cannot say precisely what happened to Dad’s old watch. It was no longer available for me during the probate process.) While I do not have the physical object, I know that I carry the best part of that watch within me–that is to say of course the impeccable sense of timing it helped me to develop. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. That time piece marked out the seconds like a metronome, helping me, the ‘boy broadcasting wonder’, to keep accurate time for my newscasts.

The Stevens Point Journal, arriving six days a week in the mailbox, provided copy for my news stories, sports updates, weather forecasts, and even ad copy. A few times a week, starting around the time of the Nixon resignation, I would put together my own version of a long-form newscast. Of course, I could paint the picture of me in an idyllic setting in which to work: lying on my belly on the bed in my room, my feet kicking up behind me, a yellow legal pad and pen in hand, setting myself to the task of creating. In reality though, I worked hunched over more like Dickens’ Bob Cratchit. I would pull the green faux leather hassock that my parents kept in the living room or near the telephone in the dining room in next to my bed and fashion it into a stool. Seated as comfortably as I could manage atop the little leather cube, I could read aloud my text directly from the paper, or make notes on the yellow legal pad resting on my bed. Not only was my back toward the door and all outside distractions, but since I am a lefty, you would see me turned toward the bed from that side, further obstructing my view of the rest of the house. I took to the task of reading quality material very seriously. It was a professional job. I even read from the obituaries to let my devoted listeners know of the lives of their friends and neighbors. I had to really. It was industry standard. When I was a boy, many of the local radio stations read aloud of the sad passing of this or that person in town. My newscasts were serious in every way, and exceeded local expectations.

Over time, this routine played out on my bed so often that I was really starting to get a feel for timing. Advertisers during my ‘reports’ benefited from either thirty seconds or “if the merchant wanted to pay top dollar” the sixty-second version. I used Dad’s pocket watch to time everything, and it paid off. Those early broadcasts from my bedroom really simplified my life when I was actually earning a paycheck, and operating behind a veritable microphone, and studio console.

Broadcasting isn’t all about the ad revenue, though. It is a complicated business, and it has its own lingo, which has to be learned. As I grew older, and could be left alone on weekends, I would get out the record player, and find out precisely how much ‘ramp’ time there was from the first musical note of a song to the first word. Then I would use the watch to time introductions to the piece. An initial presentation might include the time of day, current outdoor temperature, and other banter until BAM! The moment I stopped talking, the lyrics to the song began. This process is known as “walking up the ramp”. (For the sake of precision, let me make just one comment on the notion of “walking up the ramp”. I have always referred to this practice of talking over the musical opening to a record as “walking up the ramp”. I started out in radio with that term decades ago, and continue to speak of it that way. But, does the action have another name? Others refer to it as “hitting the post”, or as Johnnie Putman who for many years worked at WGN refers to it as “kissing the post”— the post being of course the first bit of vocalization in the music. Since I have always called it “walking up the ramp” instead, I will not change how I write of it. The wording is now part of my life story.)

Even now as James and I drive along in the car, listening to the radio, I still walk up the ramp to a song I know. Without fail, a smile lights up James’ face as I ad-lib my way with an oldie, and nail it perfectly. He even moans, “Ohhhhh! Listen to you!” when I fall short of my goal due to lack of practice. He laughs and we keep driving, an average of two to four minutes more, until the next song comes on the air. “If only Gregory had a moneymaking skill” is the way James smilingly makes mention of this strange ability to others when we talk about radio.

From my book, Walking Up The Ramp, 2013

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