The Seeds Planted When AM Radio Was King

I am a child of the sixties and seventies.

A time when AM radio was king. 

No offense to anyone reading this… but if you never listened to AM radio on a transistor radio you probably will not understand the significance of this post.  It’s not your fault, you just don’t know that you CKLWwere cheated out of a great time period in history.

I have clear memories of long summer nights spent listening to CKLW out of Detroit on my transistor radio. I carry that Motown sound in my musical tastes even to this day.

All I have to do is put some music from that era and close my eyes and suddenly I am drawn back to another place and another time.

The strong aroma of chlorine from Teagarten’s pool in Oak Harbor, Ohio can suddenly fill my senses.  I still remember all those hot summer days spent at that pool.  In my mind, the pool was huge but I know that time has dulled my memory of how small it really was.  Still… that pool shaped many of my memories of the summers of the late sixties and the early seventies.

Growing up in the confines of the little town NW Ohio was something special. We all got to ohexperience the Friday night lights of the football game.  Because you could get in the game for free at halftime, I remember many times watching the first half of the game from the top of the train tracks that passed a few yards from the fence at the West endzone.  We would then spend our money we begged from our parents to go to the game on candy at the concession stand. 

At school, if you had older siblings, your reputations begins wherever theirs left off. Here’s how it worked: on the first day of class, the teacher will do roll call and they get to your last name and pause. They look up and say, “Any relation to (older sibling’s name)?,” you say yes, and then the teacher will either inform you that your sibling is a perfect human specimen you can never live up to, or sigh dramatically and mutter, “Oh great, another one.” 

Do you remember any of these?

  • You used to drag “beer can ally” and if you swore, your parents knew about it within an hour.
  • It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town.
  • The whole school went to the same party after graduation.
  • You had no choice but to date your friends’ ex’s. 
  • Everyone considered a nearby town to be “trashy” or “snooty,” but it was actually exactly like your town.
  • You could charge anything at any local store or write a check without any ID.
  • The closest mall was a long drive.
  • You thought nothing of seeing an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower.
  • Most people went by a nickname.
  • We didn’t know it then but the luxuries of walking “uptown” to Van Atta’s restaurant and buying a cheeseburger would be a memory that we would long for… for the rest of our adult lives.

My family never owned a color TV so black and white TV was the entertainment not only for us but for many in my hometown. The cost of purchasing a color television was out of reach for many families. Back then we only had 3 channels ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Our TV recetvption came either through a pair of rabbit ears antenna located on top of the TV or an antenna attached to the house.  We had no idea what cable TV was or what it’s impact would be on our children.

A typical Friday night was watching my favorite shows like the Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch on the floor just in front of the TV because we did not have a remote and that way you could switch channels fast. Sitting there with a large bowl of popcorn with PEPSI being drank from bottle are some of my favorite memories.

Saturday mornings were spent watching cartoons and the afternoon watching American Bandstand so you could see the latest dance moves and the possibilty of seeing your favorite singer or band. 

I remember  when I couldn’t wait to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Disney on Sunday night with episodes of “Swamp Fox,” “Zorro” or even watch repeats of “Davy Crockett”. Each week at the beginning of Disney they played the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

It’s easy to find people who will sneeringly complain about how trapped they felt there as teenager. I was no different from most kids growing up there… we all began making plans of escape early on but we still got to experience the life of living in a small town when AM radio was king.

Oak Harbor held on to those days longer than most and that makes me smile even after all these years.  But once the seeds of change are planted it is hard to ever go back to way it used to be.

It’s been thirty years since I called Oak Harbor home.  I drive through the town every now and again and as the years pass, I no longer feel part of what it once was.  But I still cannot deny that there are some roots of Oak Harbor still in me. I am sure very few people remember me from that small town in Ohio anymore. I am just a face on a picture in an old yearbook that no one looks at anymore.  I am just someone they used to know.

It was a time, place and memory that my children and grandchildren will never experience.  That makes me sad. They have been cheated.

astroI’ve wondered what it must look like to the younger generations who didn’t actually live through it. Are they awe-struck by the moon landing? Is teetering on the verge of nuclear war just the start of a good sci fi movie? Do the hippies seem quaint? Are the assassinations just more names and dates to memorize for a history exam?

Are the hippies, Vietnam, women’s lib, civil rights, space race, Cold War, British Invasion, Disco, pocket calculators, TANG, PONG, Sony Walkman’s, Microwave ovens, VCR’s, The Godfather, Leisure Suits, Charles Chips, Pet Rocks, Clackers, Green Stamps, Evel Knievel and who could forget Farrah Fawcett? — just evidence of random decades. I think not.

It’s inevitable that all of us would see that period through our own personal lense.  The 60′ and 70’s were like the an epic blockbuster. Music, clothes, politics, social unrest, social change. There really hasn’t been anything like it since. So many historic events happened in that period.  

But that doesn’t mean that I want to go back. 

History has a knack of showing the flaws of the generation that planted the seeds to produce it.

That’s what all historians do: they look back and see things that were planted and the results of which may not be seen for years. While I love to look back and remember, it’s important that we don’t forget that many of the seeds that were planted all those years ago are 6449the reasons we now see major political, social, and cultural changes in our society.  We wonder how this generation of young people can be the way they are and the truth be told it is because of the seeds that were planted in the 60’s and 70’s.

We have made the mistake of ignoring the seeds that we planted.  In many ways we don’t like the results and we are the one to blame.  Our children pay the price of not having the freedom we had to play outside and have the run of the town.  We now dare not let our young children out of our sight for fear that they may one day have their picture on a milk carton.  We thought we had it under control, yet we act as if the change itself remains unexpected, invisible, even unimaginable to most people.  We should never forget how surprisingly fast these changes can happen.

Nevertheless, looking back at the seeds planted when AM radio was king is a very important. Because it can help us pay more attention to seeds that are growing underground right now. Of course we can’t predict which seeds will connect up with which other ones to create significant change, and certainly not when or how it will happen. But history can teach us to watch more closely and optimistically for signs of change that might be coming surprisingly soon.

The seeds of change. I can fully appreciate how malleable history is and how its perspective logo-seeds-of-changechanges with time. I imagine 40 years of perspective on any decade we’ve lived through would be interesting.  Forty years from now, I’m confident that the Obama years will also look much different through the lens of history. I really regret that I won’t be reading it.

I enjoyed U.S. History more than most, but in the years that have passed, I’ve forgotten more names and dates than I remember. Our history is complicated and imperfect. There are facets I don’t fully understand. 

But I do understand the heart of the man who wanted more for his children than he had for himself.

I sense his desperation. I feel his determination.

I respect his resolve.

If I’m quiet and still, I can imagine what it might have been like for the early settlers to carve a road where there was nothing – exploring completely uncharted territories, in search of a new and better life, a place to belong.

And setting their sights, slowly and painfully, they began to build. A barn. A cabin. A church with a steeple. A community of workers. A little town. A government. A country.

A Home.

Hard as I try, I can’t imagine what it must have cost. But having paid that unimaginable price, I can understand why they’d risk their lives again to protect what they’d built.

What they built for me was wrapped up in what we had when AM radio was king.  It’s gone now and we will never get it back. We have future generations that will never fully understand what it was like back in those days.

Again that makes me incredibly sad.

I long for the days when AM radio was king.


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