by Sterling Tarrant
"Well, the Beatles won't be getting back together."
As a freshman in a college dormitory, you hear a lot of new and interesting things, especially in the bathroom which is where I was standing at the time. Those words had a finality to them. I remember the first thought I had was, "Whoa, this is something important...better tune in here." This wasn't just a report on how the Fab Four decided not to appear on Saturday Night Live.
"Yeah, John Lennon's dead; someone shot him...."
Kablooie! Innocence lost. This was serious. It was as if I could feel the images -- the illumination of the lights, the sound of the running water, the smell of the bathroom -- all being burned into my mind. Like a soldering iron to a piece of balsa wood, my mind was firmly etched at that moment so that I could answer the question with my fellow Americans, "Where were you when John Lennon died?"
Fast forward five years, one month, twenty-one days and sixteen hours and I could tell you that I was in my van between Indianapolis and Cincinnati when another wood-burning set landed in my brain. Challenger. Just that one word brings it all back, doesn't it?
On my computer I can take a snapshot of the screen at any time, so it shouldn't surprise us that our minds can do the same thing. That's what this month's question is about. Call up the snapshot of the first time you heard or recognized radio, or imagine if you were from another planet and you heard our radio broadcasts for the first time. What would be (or is) the first thought that crossed your mind? I'll start. My first thought was, "Hey, how do all those bands get in there, set up, play their song, and then leave to make room for the next band to do the same thing, all during the short time that guy with the deep voice is talking? I was only three at the time, but that's the first thing I remember about radio. How about you, Mr. Ron Shapiro, KIIS, Los Angeles?
"Probably my first thought, if I was listening to morning radio, is this planet is totally whacked out. If the first broadcast I heard was at nighttime, I'd probably think, all these people have on their mind is sex, especially here in Los Angeles. It seems everybody is doing some sort of Love Lines, or we do Desperate and Dateless. That would be my first thought."
Okay, with that to begin with, we move to the city where a pair of hips first shook the world. Memphis, Tennessee, and Greg Williams, Production Director at WMC-FM.
"My first thought...I'm imagining listening to WHBQ and Rick Dees when I was a young runny nose kid, early to mid-seventies. It was the excitement and fun of Top 40 radio when it was still called Top 40. Every song was something happening. Every song was one to listen to for lyrics, not just the music itself, and each song carried strong emotions. Now if I just landed on the planet and I hear radio for the first time, my first thought is, How do these people know just when to stop talking? My other thought is, When you say you only stop the music twice in an hour, why do you stop the music to tell us you only stop the music twice an hour?"
Next, Art Frederick of WMC-AM, Memphis, got on the phone:
"When I was a kid, it seems that radio had such a magical feel to it; and you compare it to today, and it seems so tragic...unless you're talking about WEBN in Cincinnati. When I cruise through there, Joel Moss and everyone who works there just seems to be on top of it. If I landed anywhere else as an alien, my first thought about radio would be that it's tragic. If I landed in Cincinnati and 'EBN was the first thing I heard, I would be in awe. It's such a killer station."
With a comment like that, how could I not call Joel Moss at WEBN, Cincinnati:
"My first thought? I must be on another planet. I don't know. Man, if they were listening to WEBN, it would be like listening to Dumb and Dumber but directed by Quentin Tarentino. I grew up in New York being enamored with radio in the late fifties and early sixties. I remember listening to Monitor, which was NBC's weekend network programming. They had this ID that said, You're on the Monitor Beacon, with this computer generated sound, and I was so intrigued by the whole mystery of network radio. I fell in love with the medium at a very young age. I had a little radio station in my basement when I was eleven years old. I used to go to sleep listening to Gene Sheppard tell stories on WOR from ten thirty to eleven. In general, the New York market was a great place to grow up."
Now if our brains are so good at remembering these great memories, I'm wondering why can't they remember that this time of year whenever we come near studio equipment we get zapped with static electricity? I think it's because the brain likes to pull practical jokes on other parts of the body. I think it purposely forgets things just so it can have a good laugh. You know, it hears my wife saying, "So you can remember John Lennon and Challenger, but not my birthday...?!! Maybe this cattle prod will help." POW! Same with the fingers; zap 'em with a static charge and the brain giggles with glee.
Anyway, get your brain to remember this. It's next month's question: Where do you go for great ideas? Do you have an idea bank or two or three? Which one do you make the most withdrawals from? Until next month, here's hoping that none of your wood-burning type memories take place in the bathroom.