KDKA and radio mania #AtoZChallenge

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.

Former WENE Radio building in Endicott, N.Y. (2018). In my late elementary years, especially on weekends when the Top 40 chart came out, I listened to our local station WENE — which was located in this building on Main St. near the public library. Photo: Molly Charboneau

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

My maternal grandfather was a machinist who shopped at auctions with my antique-dealer grandmother. So Gramps came across all sorts of cool gadgets and electronics in his travels.

Vintage radio. About the time I got interested in Top 40 radio, he gave me the coolest gift of all — a giant, portable AM, FM, shortwave radio with a built in reel-to-reel tape recorder.

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.

Top 40 DJ Dick Summer back in the day. I had a huge crush on Dick Summer from WBZ in Boston, so I took part in the various fun activities he publicized on the air. Photo: echoes.org

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.

Dick Summer Girl Watcher’s Card. Even though I didn’t live near Boston or the beach, I ordered  a Boy Watcher’s card and propped it up in my room near the radio where I listened to WBZ on summer nights. Photo: wvnh.net

Shortwave syncopation

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! 

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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14 thoughts on “KDKA and radio mania #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Such a fun post! I remember listening to far away radio stations late at night and lived in Pittsburgh for awhile as a child, so KDKA is a familiar one.

    1. Hooray — another KDKA listener! Sadly, most of these stations are now talk radio. A shame, because they were much more fun to listen to when they were playing popular music.

  2. So timely for me at least to hear how important radio was for you. My mother just gave me a photo journal of my grandmother’s trip to a couple radio stations in 1929. And you still have that radio??

    1. No, the radio is long gone. It was huge — the size of a small suitcase — and eventually replaced by a turquoise plastic am/fm clock radio. But it sure was fun while I had it!

  3. What a fun post. Molly! Great memories. I do remember listening to radio, but I think our parents picked most of the stations! Talk radio was really big here for a long time so no music. No short wave. And no radios of our own for a long time.

    1. My Dad used to pick the station on car trips, which was agony on long vacation drives to Cape Cod where we went each year. But as I got older, I was able to negotiate equal time for some Top 40 playing mixed with the big band stations he preferred.

  4. When I was in highschool I discovered that my mother’s old radio record player also got short wave I spent hours sitting on the floor tuning to radio Havana Cuba to practice my Spanish. I don’t remember if I found any other stations or how I even found that one.

    1. Glad to learn I was not the only shortwave listener! Even before the internet, we had our ways of exploring the international airwaves.

  5. Oh I just love your radio. Did you ever tape anything?
    When my brother and I were about 12-13 my grandparents bought us transistor pocket radios on their yearly vacation at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. They were fun when out and about, but in my room I had my regular plastic radio and I listened to the charts with Dave Boxer and for a time Wolfman Jack. Trying to tape a song and not get too much talking beginning or end was an art!
    That’s hilarious about the Venus Flytrap!

    1. I had forgotten about the taping! Yes, I had the same problem of DJs talking over the song at beginning and end — and I remember listening carefully to start the reel at the exact same time as the song. Especially if it was a new tune not yet being played locally.

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