Frank Gutch Jr: RADIO NIGHTS: When Radio Ruled the Teen World

I feel sorry for kids today.  They live in isolation, plugged into their iPods and iPhones and Androids, not even realizing that the world is passing them by.  Hell, it’s not just the kids, either.  I attended a David Bromberg/Ollabelle concert recently and you almost couldn’t tell when the lights went down with all of the hand held devices lighting up the room.  There is an anxiety today which wasn’t there before the computer age, a fear of missing out, and while they are busy making sure they don’t miss out, they do.  Ironic, isn’t it?  It’s the the modern day equivalent to fiddling while watching Rome burn (except kids these days don’t think they could stop the fire anyway).  And if you don’t get that, look it up on your iPad.

Not that we didn’t have our battery operated toys in the Stone Age (That thing on the right was the transistor radio my sister got one Christmas and, ugly as it was, it could blow any transistor out of the water).  Thing is, we couldn’t connect to anything other than a radio station and wouldn’t have if we could.  When Rock ‘n Roll struck, it embedded its sharp barbs as deep as any iThing possibly could and changed the lives of teens forever, especially those whose hormones were kicking their asses all over whatever three county area they inhabited at the time.  Pop music of the fifties and sixties spawned more erections and tears than anything before or since except for maybe those blackouts that happen periodically and cause double-digit jumps in birth rates nine months later.  For teens, though, it wasn’t just about the music.  It was about the culture.

That culture went way beyond anything TV was to give us in the future or iThings will ever give us.  It gave teens a sense of self.  It showed us who we were and who we could be— through the music, through the movies, and through the extended family which developed around them.  I know, it is hard to understand, especially being’s how so many of your best friends are pictures on a screen with acronymic names you would laugh at if only you could figure them out.  I’m not being judgmental.  I’m just calling it as I see it.

See, back then, radio was all we teens had, outside of school.  We all listened and we all loved the music, though I am sure there were the occasional sociopaths who didn’t.  Most of us had record players and bought the 45s we loved (you know, the little records with the big holes) because the stations couldn’t play them often enough for us sometimes.  Jimmy Bowen‘s By the Light of the Silvery Moon, maybe.  Or Jody Reynold‘s Endless Sleep.  Or The Beatles (insert title here).  Music was something teens all had in common.  The soundtrack of our lives?  You bet it was.

And you don’t think we didn’t appreciate it?  The disc jockeys who brought the songs to us were stars!  They were practically members of our families.  I grew up in a little logging town at the base of the Cascades— Sweet Home, Oregon— and for most of my childhood, that’s where we stayed.  All the time.  But I remember begging Momma to drive the 29 miles from Sweet Home to Albany just to see KRKT‘s Gentleman Jim Hunter broadcast from inside the new T&R sign for their grand opening (It was the first big truck stop in the mid-Willamette Valley), some 50 to 100 feet up in the air!  29 miles!  And she did it!  Hell, we only went to Lebanon (13 miles) twice a year— once for the Strawberry Festival and once to buy school clothes (they had a JC Penneys and as well as a local men’s clothing store (Reeves’) which rivaled the big city stores in Corvallis and Eugene).  Well, maybe more than twice some years, now that I think about it, because they also had a drive-in theater and Dad wouldn’t go into a regular one, so when a new Jimmy Stewart or Lee Marvin movie came out, he dragged us along (like we would have said no).  But getting back to Hunter.  He was drive time on KRKT, I remember, and he rocked us when the other stations weren’t coming in all that well, which was always a crap shoot depending upon weather.  Lebanon’s KGAL was my favorite station because they played anything— my favorite story is when The Roadrunners brought in their new 45 (I’ll Make It Up To You— a stone classic!) because they were playing at the armory later that night and the DJ, Charlie Mitchell maybe (but don’t quote me), brought them right into the studio and played it without even listening first.  Talked with the band,  right there.  Breaking news, kids!  Tonight at the Lebanon Guard Armory…  (or was it Albany?). All you have to do is look at a survey from those days and you know how cool those guys were.  Here’s one posted on the Herman’s Hermits website.  Take a close look.  You won’t find many of those tracks listed on other stations’ surveys.  Royal Guardsmen‘s I Say LoveTremeloesSuddenly You Loved MeThe Five AmericansNo Communication?  Those weren’t exactly barn-burners, folks.  But here’s the cool part.   16. Bumps/Hard Woman.  That’s Seattle, my friends, and a great track from a great band.  Ever hear of it?  If you have, you must be ancient and a native of the Pac NW.   21.  Gentlemen Wilde/You Gotta Leave.  Actually, they spelled it without the ‘e’  most of the time.  They were from Portland.  Do you think a Portland station would play them?  If they did, I never heard about it.  Take that, KISN! (KISN were the big players out of Portland with the big signal and the big bucks, but KGAL kicked their asses when it came to playlists).

When Charlie later moved to Eugene to work for KASH, I thought it pure destiny that I was there attending the University at the time.  I barely knew him, but he was a friend and even though I was maybe 35 miles away from home, I felt lost and needed all the friends I could get.   I called him up and he said come on over, so a buddy of mine who had a car drove over with me and we got to spend a few hours rearranging the playlist.  Man, that was fun!  And, small world that it is, this girl called while we were there and asked if she could come over and he said, sure, if you pick me up a burger and some fries, and she did and damned if it wasn’t this girl I had a big crush on.  Kathy Hinshaw.  God, but she was bee-yoo-ti-full!  Man, that was destiny!  Or would have been if I could have said anything sensible.  You know what those girls do to us guys sometimes.

Today, all kids can hope for is a little sexting.  Small potatoes to a guy who picked beans during the summer to the sounds of Rock ‘n Roll.  You ever pick pole beans?  They would lay out these rows of beans, pole to pole, with thick wire at the top and bottom over which they hung string so the bean plants could climb (the bonus being that the wires acted as a topnotch antenna).  Well, when they were ready to pick, the bean fields would put out feelers and all you had to do is show up and pick.  The field I picked at, Atavista, even supplied a bus.  My sister and I would get up early and stumble up to Main Street to catch the bus, our sack lunches and transistor radio in hand.  When we got there, the row boss assigned us a row and we picked.  Now, the hing was that a lot of us had transistor radios and when we could get everyone on the same page (meaning the same station) we would have them all turn it up until the field was inundated in music.  God, but you never heard anything so wonderful as 25 to 50 radios blasting out Wayne Fontana & the Mindbender‘s Game of Love or The McCoysHang On Sloopy from every size speaker transistors could fit in their tiny frames.  It was magic!  Better than that, it was music!

Imagine, if you will, a high school splitting into factions over which DJ to ask to host a sock hop;  cars cutting the gut (driving through town from one end to the other, incessantly), identifying one another by the stations blasting from car radios;  a DJ showing up at, say, the Tom-Tom in Albany (it was the popular burger hangout back in the day) and kids flocking around him (and, more than likely, his family) asking for autographs.  These guys may have been local, but they were local celebrities!

Put all of it together with music that gripped your gut and the usual teen hormonal imbalance and you might get the idea, but I doubt it.  You had to live it, just like you had to live through the Viet Nam War or the hippie thing or any other cultural happening.  To really understand, you just had to be there.

Nope, you’re missing out, kids.  But I suppose you have your culture, too, and not all of it is as sad as it looks.  I’m sure you pull the covers over your head at night and text into the wee hours, just as we did so we could listen to our music, transistors buried beneath the pillow so our folks couldn’t hear.  You share your favorite music videos with friends at a click of a button while our videos were the movies which would come through town all too infrequently and if we could, we would go in groups to see Rock Around the Clock or Beach Blanket Bingo or the latest Elvis flick.  And you do have your music, as much as I don’t get it, except occasionally.  The thing is, you get yours mostly through those hand-held doo-dads.  You decide what you hear and see.  We didn’t have those choices.  It was a shared experience and our choices were limited and I think I preferred it that way.  I needed to have those songs handed to me because there was no Internet (gasp!) and when it came to Rock ‘n’ Roll, television was pretty much worthless (except for American Bandstand and the various teen programs which evolved from that).  It was tough!  Cue the “walking five miles through snow” speech.

I know!  I’m a dinosaur!  But consider this.  As much as Dad claimed to have not liked rock ‘n roll (I don’t know how many times he would say, “The music ain’t bad, but you can’t understand the words!”), he got it.  He may not have admitted it, but he got it.  He not only allowed rock ‘n roll in our house, he encouraged it.  And Momma too.  He shook his head a lot, especially when it came to arguments over which radio station we listened to in the house, but he was cool.  Even he knew the names of some of the disc jockeys.  Every now and again, it was a family thing.  That’s how important was radio.  Have you talked with your parents about what you’ve been texting lately?  I didn’t think so.  Sometimes I think kids like to crawl up inside those iThings and just die.  Smells like teen spirit.

Notes:  Got the word just this morning… Shade, one of the bands I mentioned in last week’s column, O Canada!, is close to releasing a new EP.  Head shade Jane Gowan evidently thinks we only need to know these things when she’s ready.  Best news I’ve had all week…..  For those in Portland, Oregon, Maine’s Arborea will be playing a gig at The Woods on October 11th.  It’s a funky but crazy cool venue which used to be a funeral home situated on SE Milwaukie a mile or so south of Powell Boulevard.  If you’ve never heard the band, check out their website.  They’re from another planet, one inhabited by the likes of Robbie Basho and Fern Knight and, on occasion, Pentangle, and will put you on a different plane.  Alina Hardin is opening…..  Those Boys from Lake Charles, the Research Turtles, have finished recording Part 2 of their Mankiller album/double EP.  Mixing in progress and it looks like a late Fall or early Winter release date…..  Sydney Wayser has finally finished her new album, Bell Choir Coast and it will soon be released.  If it is half as good as The Colorful, it will be on my list for top albums of this year…..  This just in by way of San Diego/Finland’s Gary Heffern.  New album by Girl Singer (Carolyn Wennblom & Friends) titled Tell Her What She’s Won.  It’s 4 A.M. and I can’t sleep and I need this.  Check her out at her bandcamp site…..  Checking out a new streaming/free download site called Noise Trade.  Found a very talented lady named Hannah Miller who has a new album coming out which might be the real thing.  Listen to the title track, O Black River, and let me know what you think….. And by the way, if you have a little time to spend, Noise Trade has over a thousand musical offerings to scope out….. Des Moines’ Bright Giant were in either Omaha (?) this past week mixing down their new EP.  Their last one is a freakin’ monster.  Listen here.  You might be very glad you did…..

Next Week:  I have no idea, but you can bet there will be more uncovered musical treasures with links, poignant remarks about the major labels (or not) and insight into the workings of the Indies.  We’ll break through the white noise or die trying, music fans.  I promise.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Segarini says I have to write my own byline, so here it is.  “Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew.  He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row).  He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted.  Read at your own peril.”

4 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: RADIO NIGHTS: When Radio Ruled the Teen World”

  1. Paul Mac Donald Says:

    We’d be bored today if things remained like the 50’s and 60’s .I wish we could have both ,and we sort of can .

  2. Awesome post! Just a little behind you age wise but i still get it even thjough I to have an MP3 player and mostly listen to that. Thanks 🙂

  3. Frank Lawrence Says:

    You forgot about the A&W in Sweet Home, but that wasn’t until 64. Frank to Frank

  4. exactly the way it was.

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