It’s summertime, and I’m baking my pre-pubescent body in the sun. I’m blissfully ignorant of sun damage and skin cancer, completely aware that Coppertone 2 oil is far superior to Coppertone 4 lotion, because my next-door neighbor has explained this to me authoritatively, as she’s three whole years older. Eyes closed, I hear the delightful sounds of water splashing, people laughing … perhaps the occasional dive off the springboard. Every 15 minutes or so, the lifeguard blows a whistle and reminds me to turn over so I don’t get too much sun on one side.
Only I’m not at the pool. I’m in my back yard, anemic thighs perpetually crisscrossed from the plastic webbing of a cheap lawn lounger, pink flip-flops dangling, listening to my beloved little handheld Zenith transistor radio. I must be all of 9 or 10, maybe younger, and WAKY-AM is broadcasting “poolside” from its tiny landlocked studio on Fourth Street, with all the requisite sound effects. Sometime during the next hour, Johnny Randolph or one of my other good WAKY friends is going to give me the daily clue for some sort of month-long beach blanket bingo contest, which I desperately want to win. Meanwhile, I thrill to the sounds of Three Dog Night, Sly & the Family Stone, the Fifth Dimension, the Cowsills, the Guess Who and the Five Man Electrical Band.
Later, once the sun is no longer sufficient to actually hurt me, I’ll probably take a ride on my super-cool purple bicycle with the banana seat and the playing cards clothes-pinned to the rear spokes. Once dinner is past and the sun actually begins to set, I’ll be vanquished to an unfair early bedtime, staring out of my lonely room just like in that Badfinger song that makes tears well up in my little eyes. I’ll stand there at the window for what seems like hours, inhaling the cloyingly sweet aroma of the seemingly requisite backyard mimosa tree, and listen to at least three neighborhood garage bands try desperately to learn Grand Funk Railroad’s anthemic “We’re An American Band.” And tomorrow morning, all will be forgotten, and I’ll have a secret pre-breakfast check-in with the Duke of Louisville himself, Bill Bailey, to listen to what I instinctively know is funny but am not quite adult enough to understand why, before I repeat the previous day’s routine. Life is good.
Outside of the ice cream truck, to which I still stubbornly refer as the “merrymobile,” the sound of perpetual summer is the sound of WAKY, a sound I carry always in my head but frankly never thought I’d actually hear again.
WAKY signed off the air in 1986, just months after I’d begun my own Louisville radio career on WFPL-FM, so I was understandably confused the other day when, on my way home from Churchill Downs, I stumbled upon an FM station boasting the WAKY call letters and an oldies format that sounded pretty much like what I’d remembered from those carefree days of my youth. Not only does the new station (formerly WASE/Elizabethtown, 103.5 FM) now have the famous call letters, it also seems to have all of the old jingles and liners and, lo and behold, even a nice little welcome message from ol’ Johnny Randolph himself. I’m down to one of the four original speakers in my 21-year-old car, so it actually sounded pretty similar to my old transistor — talk about a blast from the past!
As I was listening to songs like “My Green Tambourine” and “Mighty Quinn,” I was suddenly possessed by a compelling fit of nostalgia and stopped at the nearest Walgreens for a bottle of Coppertone, which I immediately huffed like a box of Crayolas, and a pair of pink Zori sandals. I indulged my inner child for the remainder of the day, replete with fond memories and banana popsicles.
I doubt I’ll really spend a lot of time listening to WAKY beyond the car or perhaps even my currently mimosa-less back yard, but hearing it again, even for a few minutes, was a nice little wink from the universe that momentarily reconnected me with a part of my past that I could enjoy on its own merits — nothing that required any serious analysis, but something that definitely brought a serious smile. Hot fun in the summertime, indeed.
Leslie Stewart is a 20-year radio veteran whose own history of call letters has included all three of Louisville’s Public Radio Partnership stations. She has owned an eponymous music-oriented public relations firm since 2000. Contact her at [email protected]