A boomer rediscovers his “radio garden”

Boomers weren’t around yet for the birth of broadcasting, but it was while we were kids that it came to full bloom. And that didn’t change until the Internet. BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson writes of his nostalgic memories of broadcasting back when he was a kid … and a way to experience it again, today!

As a youth of the 50s and 60s — at the beginning of a period of intense learning and curiosity in my life — I discovered the influence of radio. It was a time when any thought of the Internet was nothing more than a far-flung dream. But radio was in its prime, and its reach… well, most of us discovered the Beatles and learned at once of President Kennedy’s assassination on a local radio station.

Wolfman Jack, one of the most popular radio personalities of the 60s and 70s. This photo was from his appearance in the film, American Graffiti.

Many if not most communities had at least one AM-band station that did a pretty good job of reflecting the character of the locales. There were thousands of AM stations back then. Supported mostly by local advertising, they broadcast everything from music to news to local sports to… well, everything.

Then, FM radio with its clarity, its “high fidelity,” became vogue.

Personally, I was also drawn to the exotic appeal of shortwave radio. I could sit for hours in my room on North Greenbrier Street in Arlington, Virginia, and listen to broadcasts from around the world. There were programs in English from Radio Moscow, although the accent seemed sort of sinister to my youthful ear. There was the BBC from London. And many others I did not understand.

For more than forty years, Willis Conover was known as the Voice of America. From studios in Washington, D.C., Conover introduced American jazz to a worldwide audience – especially to audiences in Communist countries behind the “Iron Curtain” – and in the process, became one of the most familiar voices on radio globally with an audience of approximately 130 million.

America’s own shortwave service, the Voice of America, was broadcast from an array of powerful transmitters and antennas north of Cincinnati. The most popular program beamed to audiences abroad was “The Jazz Hour with Willis Conover.” To this day, I remember that every “VOA” program began with an orchestra playing, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” I only recently learned that years ago, the melody was considered the unofficial national anthem of the U.S.

That was all back then… when I was a kid. The years of my life rolled on — education, career, relationships, family… all the stuff of a full life. And, I mostly lost interest in AM radio and FM alike, aside from reading radio newscasts while at CBS Network News. Then, the Internet exploded on the scene, and it changed life for all of us… for better or worse… or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, for better and worse.

Radio.Garden

Now, today, we can take a moment and step back… sort of… to those days of “radio as we once knew it” on a new website. It’s called radio.garden (no “dot-com” or anything else). I have no clue how it works but you can look anywhere on our world, click on a small green dot, and listen to radio at that location. It’s really cool.

Just today, I listened to a local station in Akureyhi, Iceland; another at Tikhvin, Russia. I clicked all over the map and heard rock music from Atyrau, Kazakhstan; Darbhanga, India; Padang, Indonesia; Punta Arenas, Chile. There was no scratchy shortwave signal noise… just clear sounds, music and talk.

But… it lacked the allure, discovery and magic of when I was a kid. When fading radio signals from a different and far-off world of languages emerged from that shortwave radio in my room. That was the stuff of memories and imagination, static and all.

4 Comments

  1. I find myself listening to the radio more lately as well, especially through podcasts. Thanks for the heads up about a new way to travel.

    1. This is so extremely cool. Not only am I a Baby Boomer, but am also in the travel business. Thanks for this great nugget of information!

  2. Thanks for writing this. I enjoyed listening to radio stations in different parts of the world on radio.garden.

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