K is for KDKA and radio mania. Eleventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!
Toward the end of my elementary years in Endwell, N.Y., I became a big Top 40 radio fan — as did most local tweens in my neighborhood and at school.
During the daytime, especially on weekends when the record chart came out, I listened to our local station WENE — located in nearby Endicott in a one-story building with glass brick windows.
But after dark my musical vistas expanded as powerful Top 40 AM stations turned up their frequencies to broadcast across the northeast. Thus began my years of KDKA and radio mania.
World’s coolest radio set
About the time I got interested in Top 40 radio, he gave me the coolest gift ever — a giant, portable AM, FM, shortwave radio with a built in reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was housed in heavy case that had the look of a World War II relic, but I didn’t care — because with that radio set I could listen to big city stations located miles away from Endwell. What a thrill!
On summer nights in particular, when I could stay up really late since I had no school, I would patiently turn the dial hunting for DJs playing Top 40 tunes — then flip among the various stations in hopes of hearing a new song our local station wasn’t playing yet.
Top 40 radio mania
That’s how I discovered powerhouse stations like KDKA in Pittsburgh, CKLW in Windsor-Detroit, WABC in New York City, WBZ in Boston and WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana — and how I became a fan of some of the late night DJs.
One DJ who I particularly liked was Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie), one of WABC’s Good Guys — and one time I wrote him a letter about something he said or played on his show. To my astonishment, he wrote back — a letter I am sure he typed himself because I remember it had errors and corrections, not at all like an official correspondence.
Another DJ that I had a huge crush on was Dick Summer from WBZ in Boston — so I took part in the various fun activities he publicized on the air. For one thing, he had a pet Venus flytrap — and I believe offered them for sale from WBZ. So I saved up my allowance, ordered one and had endless fun feeding it hamburger — an early lesson in botany!
He also offered “boy watcher’s” and “girl watcher’s” cards — pre-printed postcards with his photo on the flip side and a circle you cut out to watch/meet boys or girls at the beach. I didn’t live near the beach — but I still felt a part of his show having my boy watcher’s card propped up next to my carnivorous plant.
Those faraway DJs made our local station seem small and provincial — especially when it took weeks for WENE to play the new songs I was hearing on late night radio. And sometimes, as a break from Top 40, I would turn to the shortwave dial to see what further-away wavelengths had to offer.
That’s how I ended up listening one night to the Red Army Chorus –broadcast from the former Soviet Union. The U.S. may have been coming off the McCarthy period, but my mom was a school music and choral teacher — and I knew good singing when I heard it. So I tuned in again from time to time to hear their stirring tunes.
And thus, bit by bit, radio mania in my elementary years piqued my curiosity about the world far beyond my street, my school and my small upstate New York town.
Up next: L is for Lightening bugs and lakeside lilies. Please stop back!
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