Wednesday, July 3, 2013

OLD TIME RADIO

This morning is a retro morning. When I emerged for breakfast at 7 a.m., just as the coffee finished perking, the power went out. No rainstorms were deluging us; no high winds gusted outside; no fuse boxes had blown. True, the morning gray clouds still blocked the sun, but there was no visible reason for a black-out. It was cold cereal time at my breakfast table.
A few years ago when we had a major power outage, I bought a round, battery-operated object that looks like a flying saucer for just such emergencies and amused myself for an entire morning with broadcasts about Franklin County, Tennessee. The little round object could have been from outer space, the way it crackled and spit out voices, but the excited announcer kept us updated about the progress of work being done to restore power on The Mountain.
In between broadcasts, we used the iPhone to get bulletins from “Classifieds” here at Sewanee. “Classifieds” is a service that advertises, yes, but it also sends electronic messages about everything from lost dogs and cats and house rentals to reports about lurking coyotes in the area. Also, when power goes out, people report the areas that have lost power. No need to call Duck Electric Company, our local service, “Classifieds," does its best to keep us apprised of emergency situations.
However, this morning, the broadcast that kept us updated was one issuing from the flying saucer radio station, which received telephone calls from as far away as Knoxville regarding the outage. “You must have forgotten to pay your electric bill,” the announcer quipped to one caller, and the caller responded, “I don’t have no generator like you,” click…Exactly an hour after the outage occurred, a cheerful voice from Duck Electric called in to say that he was sorry for the inconvenience but a fox squirrel had gotten into the works in Decherd and caused the black-out, and we'd receive power within a few minutes. The radio announcer had predicted that the outage was due to either a squirrel or a deer thrashing about.
Only on the Mountain, I said to myself. But thank God for radio. I always love to hear NPR broadcasts while traveling in a car and have access to nostalgic radio programs from satellite radio that take me back to the 40’s when radio was at its zenith. My grandfather Paul would be happy if I stayed tuned in to my flying saucer broadcasts all day as he was a dedicated radio listener who had his own radio station in Franklinton, Louisiana, which I mentioned in a previous blog. Lightning struck his equipment room and set it afire back in the 30’s during the Golden Age of Radio, but he kept his enthusiasm for radio broadcasts until he died in 1947, listening to “Amos /N Andy,” “The Fred Allen Show,” and other comedians who flourished during this period of radio history.
During the early 40’s, my parents bought a huge Bendix radio and placed it in the living room of our home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was not only the handsomest piece of furniture in the living room, it was the most-used piece of equipment that they owned. I remember going home for lunch and listening to “Orene Mews With the News” at noon during my grade school years and tuning in to “Let’s Pretend” on Saturdays. During the hot summer days when we were allowed to take a break and come indoors, we often played "Monotony" (Monopoly), then our neighborhood gang would gather around the radio (we had the biggest cabinet radio on the block) and listen to the daytime soaps.  The show that caused me to bury my head in my mother’s lap was “Inner Sanctum,” a program featuring a loud squeaking door that often brought forth a gasp from my mother, but we continued to listen and further fed our fears with “The Shadow.” Music varied from the Texaco broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera to the still-running “Grand Ole Opry Show,” and we kept up with the progress of the Allies during WWII through broadcasters like Edward R. Murrow, while soldiers in Europe listened to morale boosting programs such as “Command Performance.”
During the early 50’s, radio saved the day for many military personnel stationed at a SAC base in Limestone, Maine on the Canadian border, and we were among those associated with the Army who went to bed at nightfall, turned on an electric blanket and the “Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” simultaneously to survive the cold wintry nights in Aroostook County.

As I said when I began this blog, it’s a retro morning. I’ve placed the flying saucer in a conspicuous place atop a bookcase and have vowed to do more than dust it off every week. I hope it doesn’t decide to spiral off into the universe, because we never know when another squirrel is going to get in the works and cause us to pause for a rural electric intermission on The Mountain at Sewanee.
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