Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Old We've Gotten, How Many We've Lost

It was the spring of my discontent.  One of several.  I had been unemployed for about two months, ever since I called out one Friday night at the Food Fair so I could attend the county basketball tournament.  At the tender age of seventeen, I was on my own.  

Well, that's not entirely true.

I mean, I still lived with my parents and they fed me and stuff, and I was still in high school.  But...  I had stocked my last gallon of milk, fronted my last aisle, stolen my last grape... (What?  They're like half a cent each.  I ate like three a night.  Who amongst us hasn't absconded with a bit of produce without paying, let them cast the first stone... OWW!  Who threw that?!)

That May, I landed a weekend job at the local AM radio station.  It was, um, quaint.  They still had a fifteen-minute swap-and-shop phone-in program (think of it like Craigslist on the radio) every weekday.  Each morning at 7:57 they (we) aired the funeral announcements (think obituaries on the... well, you get the idea).

It also happened to be a country station.  The year was 1990.  Up 'til then, I had not been all that keen on country music.  In fact, we were just coming out of my favorite decade of pop music, and I was pickin' up whatever Casey Kasem was countin' down.

As it turned out, my hiring coincided with a remarkable country music boom.  Garth had come out in '89, along with Clint Black and Alan Jackson.  George Strait, Alabama, and Reba were all in the long sweet spots of their careers.  Brooks & Dunn were about to break through, along with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and on and on.  Coincidence?  Well, as I just used the word "coincided," then yes, completely.

I still remember the first time I played/heard "Friends in Low Places."  It was on a 45 (think compact discs for old folks).  Perhaps it was because I was still a few months away from my first crippling heartbreak and had never tasted beer, but the song didn't strike me as all that remarkable.  In fact, I predicted then and there that Clint Black would indeed have a longer, more successful career than Garth.  Still waiting to see how that one turns out.

I saw the change from vinyl to CD's to mp3's.  Commercials went from carts (think re-recordable 8-tracks) to mini-discs to mp3's.  And within a couple of years, the station applied for and was granted an FM license.  Eventually, I moved to full-time working the night shift on a real FM radio station (think SiriusXM for old folks).

Anytime someone would ask about my job, the answer was always some variant of "I'm only doing this until I find something else/figure out what I want to do for a career."  I assume it was part of my Peter Pan syndrome, always waiting for some fantastical ship whose arrival was always just around the corner.  

Then one day, it was twenty-five years later.  And I had spent approximately twenty-one of those working for various radio stations filling an assortment of positions, from DJ to reporter, producer to high school football scoreboard co-host.

So why did the career-that-wasn't end?  Well, consider that except for the most recent, every other radio station I had worked for has since been bought out, changed format and moved, or shut down entirely.  I have never spoken truer words than these: Clear Channel killed the radio star.

Perhaps I'll write more about my radio days later -- I can sense the masses clamoring.  But what got me thinking about those days were last week's CMA Awards Show.  My sister texted (think Snapchat for old folks) the day after the Awards to see if I had watched.  I had not.  

The last station I worked for was classic country, '50s through '90s, which probably contributed to my being mostly abhorred by what passes for current country music.  (And while I'm at it, you pesky kids, you get off my lawn!)

She went on to inform me, due to it being the 50th Anniversary, there had been a tribute of some sort and quite a few of the old guard had appeared.  So I spent a bit of Thursday scrounging around YouTube watching clips.

Soon I found myself on the outskirts of Nostalgia-ville, cruising down a warm and fuzzy stretch of Memory Lane (one of my favorite roads as you may have noticed over the years).  There was a montage of some of the legends who have passed, including Waylon, Haggard, Cash, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.  

I had not expected to become teary-eyed, yet there I was.

The music had played a significant role in my life, certainly that was some part of it.  I think it's fairly common to feel a connection with the people and things who share our little strip of time.  The singers and bands, actors and athletes, songs and TV shows.  In all the years of creation, these were ours.

But mostly I suppose it had to do with that old familiar reminder of time's swift and certain passage.  Watching Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Alabama, and others on stage, I soon had the thought, "Wait a second.  How did they become the old guard?"

For you may be able to convince me of many things, but you will never convince me that the early '90s were twenty-five years ago.  Feels more like ten.  Maybe fifteen.  But twenty-five?  One third of an average lifespan?  A quarter of a century?  It seems as impossible as a thing can be.

I swear just the other day I was dusting off an old Charley Pride LP, placing it on the turntable, back cueing it to the start of "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin," and flipping the switch from 45 to 33 1/3...

Geez, that must have been some switch.

"If we had an hourglass to watch each one go by, or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly..."


  1. Never stole a grape in my life. However, local grocery store gives a free fruit to any child while their parents are shopping so my kids get fruited up regularly.

    Our local radio still has a program called Radio Tradio.

    They made Friends In Low Places on a 45? I think I had it on cassette. I still have it on CD. I also can still remember the first time I heard the mysterious third verse!

    1. Ha! Ours was the Trading Post. I had completely forgotten about the third verse to Friends in Low Places! There was a third verse to Thunder Rolls, too. Guess those mysterious third verses must be why he pulled ahead of Clint Black.

  2. It's not stealing grapes, Bone. It's quality control, and it's a very important job.

    Loved this. I keep thinking the 90s were like 10 years ago. You're not alone.

    1. The 90's were ten years ago. They have to be!