We lived with the radio on. Some of my earliest memories are the music coming through the speakers. It was the early-to-mid ‘80s, and the sounds of Prince and Cyndi Lauper poured through the trailer we lived in. I sat on the floor eating a bowl of cereal in front of the speakers. I don’t remember if there was any shag carpeting, but it’s possible. I sometimes wonder what drew me to the sounds. You couldn’t see them. Couldn’t play with them. But they danced around the room in some invisible routine, and I sat captivated. That’s to say that it was never just something on in the background. There was importance to the music before I knew what importance was.
A few years later, my little sister and I were home alone while mom ran to the store. 96STO, a top-40 station out of Owensboro, was giving away Garth Brooks tickets. We didn’t know we were too young to win, but I remember wanting to win them for mom. And maybe she would take me with her. I told Sarah that I was going to call, and a rush of fear took over her face. Call the radio station? You can’t do that. You might as well be calling God or the president. I punched in the number while she protested next to me, slowly freaking out, and to my surprise, the DJ answered with, “You’re caller 10! Congratulations!” I turned to Sarah, my eyes about to pop out of face. In a spaz moment, she quickly snatched the receiver out of my hand and hung it up. We both stood breathless for a couple of beats before I realized what had happened. I don’t remember exactly what came next, but I’m sure what started out as screaming at each other turned into pushing, scratching and biting, most likely with her winning.
96STO would be one of the most important companions in my childhood. I woke up to it, and I went to sleep to it, eagerly awaiting each night to hear the top-10 songs at that moment. I kept notes on them like sport stats and, when I could anticipate which song was next, I had my trusty tape deck set to record, honing in on the precise moment when the DJ stopped talking and the music started playing. I’m sure, if I were to find those tapes, there would be a lot of chopped intros on those songs — C+C Music Factory, RuPaul and Salt n’ Peppa, but also Toto, Phil Collins, Seal and the remnants of hair band power ballads. They’d play the biggest of the alt-scene bands here and there, but I remember it being a few years later in the midst of post-grunge when we would hear the likes of Everclear singing “Santa Monica.” That’s due partly to my incessant nagging, er… requesting, the song every other hour. The patience that the DJ, Rusty Sharp, had with me makes that man a saint.
There was also a station based in my hometown of Leitchfield called K105. It was more of a news station, so I had less interest, but the morning show would occasionally throw us a bone with a song, and I would hang close for all three minutes and 30 seconds (on average), until it went back to talk. However, come Saturday morning, K105 would gift us one of the greatest traditions to ever grace the airwaves: Tradio. It was so good, it was almost like eavesdropping. A local resident would phone in usually in need of something, or possibly with something to get rid of. “I’ve got a few spare parts to a tractor, but sure would love a new shovel.” “Our hound dog just had puppies, free for the taking. First come. If you have a working car battery, you can have the whole litter.” And on and on. I mean it when I say that, yes, we laughed at some of the calls, and we knew a lot of the people calling in, but we were also hoping to hear of that one item that we could also use. Then it’d be a mad dash to find out what we had of value that might seal the deal. Those mornings would be rounded out with a story of morels from Paul Harvey and with his closing of “And now you know the rest of the story… Good day,” the spell would be temporarily lifted, and we were sent off to explore the outside world, where, inevitably, someone was blaring another station from their garage. Another north star for our journeys.