Monday, April 28, 2008

My XM Saturday

This one comes under the category of “Ringing Endorsements”.

MY WIFE told me what she wanted for her birthday this year. It was XM Satellite Radio. So, being a magnificent husband, I bought it for her.

(She didn’t just blurt, “I want you to buy me XM Satellite Radio for my birthday!” A couple of months before the big day, she said that she thought satellite radio would be a good thing to have. I did the following mental calculation: Birthday Coming + “I think satellite radio would be good to have” = MY WIFE would like this as a birthday present.)

The first step in acquiring this for her was to go on-line and scope it out. So, that’s what I did. I went to the websites of the two main satellite radio providers, XM and Sirius. I checked the programming schedules for both, and decided on XM. What cinched the deal in favor of XM was that they have an entire channel devoted to old-time radio. Both MY WIFE and I love old-time radio shows. This is due to our upbringing.

For her part, my father-in-law was a nut for the stuff. In those days before everything in the world was available via the internet, he had amassed a large collection of cassette tapes from flea markets, garage sales, and the occasional catalog, of all sorts of shows from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. He wasn’t just a fan; he was a fanatic. He had books of history concerning the genre, and could name the entire cast of most of the more popular shows. If you gave him half a chance, he’d pop a cassette into a player and happily watch you as you enjoyed Amos & Andy or Jack Benny.

(Truly, I think he got as much joy out of seeing your reactions to a show as he did from listening to it himself. He felt he was bestowing a treasure upon you. He was right, of course.)

As for me, my Mom was actually on the radio in the 40’s. She and her sister, my Aunt Jeanne, had a local show wherein they spun records and sang as a duet. They were accompanied in this endeavor by a fellow named Don Latulippe, who is (my best guess) in his eighties, bless him, and still sometimes heard on-air in the Boston area via WEZE, a Christian station.

(Interesting story concerning the genesis of my Mom’s show, and illustrative of the difference between media now and then. My Mom and her sister went to the radio station [WJDA] and complained that they didn’t have enough programming for teenagers. The station manager said something to the effect of, “If you think there isn’t enough teen programming, why don’t you two do a show?” And so they did. They went into the studio, with no experience whatsoever, and were teamed with Latulippe – who did have some experience – and there they were, on the radio, singing. Could you imagine anything like that happening in today’s corporate atmosphere?)

My Dad was also involved in radio. While in the navy during the Korean conflict, he was on the USS Mindoro, an aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are huge. They’re big enough to be a small town. And my Dad was “on-air” spinning records and such for the crew. He “broadcast” throughout the ship. After leaving the navy, he auditioned for a couple of positions in radio, but never got one. He soon abandoned that career track, but he retained his love of radio.

(Of course, that’s how I came to have the great pipes with which I make my living. I’m the product of a singer and an announcer. Genes will tell.)

I had those two influences, but I also came to a love of radio on my own. Until certain benign smoke products entered my scene, I was not your average kid. I liked listening to talk radio or sports, rather than music. And – getting back to old-time radio – some of the talk shows I listened to would sometimes trot out a classic radio show to fill time. I heard such one-time staples as The Life Of Riley and Lights Out on a serendipitous basis. And every time I heard them, I loved them.

In many ways, radio was even more of a visual medium than television. The shows were written so as to engage the mind totally. As you listened, YOU supplied the scenery and props. YOU (with some gentle prodding from the sound effects man) created whole cities and towns out of thin air. And, perhaps most important, YOU fleshed out the characters. As hard as it may be for someone who was born within the TV Age to believe, there was once no visual reference for such standard characters of American folklore as The Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon. The radio listener “saw” them only via his or her imagination. Thus, each member of the audience filled in the blanks in a different way. In turn, the characters became highly personalized and, as a result, cherished in a way that having them visually defined would not have allowed.

(Not having a visual reference was a good thing for some shows and characters. For instance, Matt Dillon was played by William Conrad. Mr. Conrad pushed 300 pounds, if I'm not mistaken. If you saw him on a horse, you would have known that there wouldn't be too many bad guys he'd be able to catch up to. The characters of Amos and Andy, two black men, were played by two white men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who were also the writers of the show. A goodly portion of the audience, both black and white, had no idea that the actors were white.)

(I won't sidetrack into a discussion of whether or not Amos & Andy was racist. It was. But the intent wasn't. That's my opinion; your mileage may vary. In any case, it was funny. If the characters had been white, the writing would still have been good.)

For anyone with a strong imagination, old-time radio was a marvel. And having radio as the major home entertainment produced a generation of Americans who, for the most part, envisioned nothing as impossible. Or, more correctly, who envisioned the impossible, period. Heading into the 50’s and 60’s, these were the people who would eventually put thousands of satellites into orbit, which brings us - somewhat tortuously, I have to admit - back to satellite radio.

I bought a receiver and sound system for MY WIFE, and gave it to her on her birthday. She liked it, of course. How could she not? There are some 200 channels, covering every possible form of music, talk, sports programming, and the afore-mentioned old-time radio. And they all come in with a crystal-clarity of sound totally foreign to your average AM or FM station. Commercials are limited – on some channels, totally non-existent – and, since the audience is necessarily fragmented and the time to fill so vast when you have 200 channels broadcasting mostly 24/7, the choices made by the programmers cover the full range of possibilities. I mean, where else are you possibly going to hear Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar these days, if not on the 1940’s music channel of XM - not to mention Shoot The Meatballs To Me, Dominick, Boy - and the first person who can tell me what band or person recorded either one wins the Suldog Giant Jackpot, which is up to $3.64 this week.

Since MY WIFE works on Saturday during the day, I spent all of this past Saturday engrossed in the world of XM. Aside from the old-time radio shows and 1940’s music, I listened to two baseball games. If this alone doesn’t sell the service to a baseball fan, then I have no grasp of human nature whatsoever: There are 14 channels reserved for baseball broadcasts. Every major league baseball game played – the entire season of all 30 teams - is broadcast on XM.

(I know. The math doesn’t work. 14 channels divided by 30 teams equals I’m a liar. But it’s true. Scheduling differences between West Coast and East Coast teams, travel days, and other time variables, make it work.)

The best part of these broadcasts, at least for a radio buff like me, is that they aren’t done by announcers specifically hired by XM and thus made bland by the constraints of trying to please a nationwide audience. XM picks up the home team’s broadcast and feeds it out via satellite. So, if you tune in to a game that the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing at Dodger Stadium, as I did this Saturday, you get the inimitable Vin Scully calling the play-by-play. If the Red Sox are playing at home, you get Joe Castiglione. And with regional coverage being picked up, you get the odd mannerisms and quirks of the regional announcers. You get the St. Louis announcer wishing a married couple from Sullivan, Missouri, a happy 50th wedding anniversary, and then wondering if that’s the golden anniversary or the silver one, precipitating a friendly argument with his broadcast partner when he is told that the 75th anniversary is the diamond one. (“Well, it sure wasn’t the ladies who made up that one. That had to be a guy. If the ladies did it, the first one would be for the diamonds. Strike one, a fastball. The ladies wouldn’t leave that hanging until 75 years had passed. Had to be a guy. And a cheap guy at that. Ladies, if you’re waiting 75 years to get a diamond, you picked the wrong man, let me tell you. Ball one, outside and low. You sure about that? 75 years for a diamond?”) You can’t beat stuff like that, especially when delivered in a sort-of southern-midwest-down-home-country accent.

In addition to the baseball channels, there are channels devoted to SEC, ACC, Big 10 and Big East college sports, among others. The National Hockey League has coverage similar to baseball, with a number of channels devoted to their games. It is a sports-lovers paradise.

There are channels devoted to music by decade – 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, right up through the 90’s; by genre - country, hard rock, jazz, classical; and even by artist. Devotees of Led Zeppelin have a channel. There are similar offerings for fans of Frank Sinatra and George Strait. I like Led Zep as much as the next guy, but I can’t imagine listening to nothing but them 24/7. However, de gustibus non est disputadum, as my grandfather said every time my grandmother tried to get him to eat something aside from pickled sardines.

I could go on and on – as a matter of fact, I think I already have – but I think this is an amazing service. The cost is reasonable, about $13 a month, with extended plans that knock the price down lower. I heartily recommend it, without reservation. And I’ll add, for the cynics among you, that this is a wholly unsolicited opinion and I haven’t been compensated for saying this. I’m just trying to turn you on to something magnificent. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

No, it’s better than sliced bread. You can’t hear The Phil Harris & Alice Faye Show on sliced bread.

Soon, with more better stuff.


lime said...

i think XM radio owes you a commission. yep, i sure do! sounds great!

Rooster said...

Amen Lime. I never thought much about it until this post.

I might be a tad too young to have caught the old radio shows, but I did a LOT of radio listening to the Red Sox and Bruins as a kid. Much more than TV, and like the shows, it pulls your imagination into it and there is nothing like it.

Hilary said...

Sounds great, though you almost lost me at baseball. This was indeed a wonderfully written post.. even for a non-sports fan. ;)

emon said...

You're one of the best decoder husbands out there. I don't know too many who could break the following:

'Birthday Coming + “I think satellite radio would be good to have” = MY WIFE would like this as a birthday present.'

Of course there are some who'd decode and still order a picture frame from Amazon (overnight shipping).

Some years ago when I'd produced a bunch of radio dramas, I wished I could do a series of short plays on XM. It never happened; I haven't given up hope.

But you're right, to have this huge depot of material you could listen to is worth something, esp. the old radio shows that are still untouchable. They knew how to fire up the ear's eye.

Anonymous said...

For those interested in getting there "hit" of old songs (1920s - 1950s, approx.)I would like to recommend WJIB, 740 AM. It has no advertising and lots of good memories for those into the REAL oldies but goodies.

Minnesotablue said...

My husband is a old radio fan and is always buying old radio tapes. He loved the lone ranger as a kid and still listens to them Also, I remember listening to Inner Sanctum and it scared the bejesus out of me. Ah Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Hop a long cassidy,Boston Blackie, The Saint, The Shadow knows and the list goes on and on

DJ Big Mick said...

Dude, you know your second subscription is like half price, right? And you can get a receiver that works in your car and can then be taken inside to a boombox-like unit? They have some really great gadgets in addition to their cool programming, and you know me, I love gadgets!

Hattie said...

Coming over here via Rhea's blog.
Our family entertainment was sitting around the radio listening to those radio shows. My favorites were the Judy Canova show, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and Fred Allen. This was in the 40's. As I got older, I liked the adventure shows like Superman and the Lone Ranger, and also the soaps like Just Plain Bill and Stella Dallas. On holidays or sick days my companion of choice was Arthur Godfrey, who loved Hawaii. (And that's where I live now!)
As I grew older, my favorites were Bob and Ray.
I'm really a book and radio person and never have developed much fondness for TV. But I love the Internet.

Buck said...

SN1 got XM on his something-or-other GM-built SUV three years ago. I rode with him and family from Salt Lake City to Maine and back that summer. We took a HUGE stack of CDs with us for the trip and listened to exactly ONE of 'em, and that was because we heard a Lyle Lovett song on XM and wanted to hear the whole album, which we'd brought along. Other than that... it was ALL XM, ALL the time... six days worth, nearly non-stop.

XM really IS great good stuff. Ya done right by YOUR WIFE!

david mcmahon said...

thtComing here is always a great visit, Jim.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

great post. I'm planning to get XM before our big road trip in August. Last time I just took a load of CDs with me but every time I drive anywhere with someone who has sat radio it amazes me. Can't wait.

Mushy said...

I have Sirius in the truck and started out listening to Raw Dog, Blue Collar, and the Fox Hole for comedy relief, but they repeat instead of playing through the old stuff, so I have switched to PBS, FOX News, the Blues, and the Vault. I'm not sure I can ever give it up.

Thimbelle said...

TW and I have been talking about getting XM for several months, but what with all the commotion around here, just haven't quite got it done.

Many Happy Returns of The Day to Your Wife!

Thim :)

Sandi McBride said...

Hmm, maybe XM radio for Father's Day for Mac...he's a nut about all those old radio shows. Course he's not alone...I could get into some Jack Benny shows! Great post, tell your better half Happy Birthday and to enjoy a little "the Shadow Knows" for me!
David sent me along this wonderful trip to yesteryear...think I'll go thank him

Peter N said...

The Life of Riley, radio version, still has me laughing outloud. I chose Sirius for one reason only-Howard Stern. They also have the old-time radio network. And Sul, soon (we have to hope) BOTH XM and Sirius will become one company. Both want it but the gov't. has been slow to act. With you-know-who in the White House, is that surprising? I have Sirius in my car and a boom box receiver for home. The BB receiver has an FM transmitter, so that I can receive Sirius on every radio, and the tuner of my amp, in every room of my house! I LOVE IT!!!!

Suldog said...

Thanks, everybody! As always, I appreciate you taking the time - and making the effort - to leave a comment. A few specifics...

Emon - If you ever get the radio drama thing going, you more-or-less have a demo of mine (Pointy The Poinsettia) so if you can use me, I'd love to be used.

Anonymous - Yes, WJIB in Boston is one of the best for an eclectic mix of music, including older tunes. It is virtually commercial free (listener supported radio) and can be found at 740 on the AM dial.

DJ Big Mick - I should have known you'd be right on top of this. Now that I've heard it, I actually am considering a second receiver, so thanks for the tip.

Hattie - I heard one of the funniest Bob & Ray routines ever, on the "Laugh USA" channel of XM. It was about a guy who is starting a professional ring-around-the-rosie league. Just hilarious. They were unique, and are sorely missed.

Peter - I didn't find an old-time radio listing at Sirius. If you say there is one, then obviously there is. If I had found one there, then I would have had a harder decision to make :-)

Chucka Stone Designs said...

I recently heard these two giants will be merging into one megalopolite so you will get all kinds of other goodies from Sirius too. I was converted a year ago when it came for a year for free with my new car. Can't wait to get all these goodies that come from XM.

Janet said...

My birthday is next week. When asked what I wanted, I said yard art. Actually I seriously would like to replace the White Rabbit statue that bought it in a hail storm. And a lamppost (ala Narnia).
We have a number of tapes and CDs with old radio shows - I love them.

John-Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John-Michael said...

You done it now, Mister SulDog Man! You took that "stirrin' stick" of your tale-tellin', and stirred up a whole passel (is that metric measure?) of pent-up memories. Like my all-time favorite TV disillusionment, when we oh-so-expectantly went to Nana & Grandaddy's (they had the 1st TV in the Family) to watch the broadcast of what had, for years, been our favorite radio show ... "Gun Smoke." Let me tell you, the excitement ran high indeed! Until the show started. Then ... death. Hadn't these TV people ever listened to a single show on the radio?, was our shared question. EVERYBODY knew that Matt Dillon's arrival on the scene was heralded by a particular sound signature. (Such was the world of radio productions.) And Matt's "signature" was the jingling of his spurs. Yep!! For years we all knew that Matt had arrived to set things right when we heard that familiar jingle, jingle, in manly, deliberate pace ... moving steadfastly against all of the powers of wrong-doing that had designs on spoiling the perfection of Matt's Dodge City. On the TV ... NO JINGLE!! What a rip!! We were disgusted with this charade and deliberate insult to all "Gun Smoke" fans everywhere. (We did, of course, forgive ... but, obviously, NEVER forgot!)

Enjoy the overflow of YOUR WIFE's radio shows. I know that she will keep it turned up loud enough to share some of her fun. [grin] (such a thoughtful and generously caring man!)

Love You Jim!

Suldog said...

Geez, maybe I should just start a blog devoted to old-time radio. There seem to be quite a few of you who dig it.

Thanks for the very kind response to this piece. Your comments - especially when they are so detailed and loving - are always appreciated.

CrazyCath said...

So you bought XM radio for YOUR WIFE then she went to work while you played with it all day. Hmmm.

Btw - 60th wedding anniversary is diamond - but I agree with the comment that a man must have thought of that!

Great rambling post as usual. So much of you there! Love it. Sorry I've been away from here. Off to catch up on one or two more posts...

BurningSky said...

Don Raye wrote the the song Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar in 1940. I'm of the internet generation, so I have no imagination, just an endless list of facts at my disposal 24/7..:-P

Sad sad times...

There really is something to be said about forms of entertainment that leave sections up to the imagination. I'm a huge fan of reading books which force you to make up the details in your head. It really helps you to get into the story and stay focused. Kudos to your interest in old time radio, it's a medium I have yet to explore...

Melissa said...

I'm really late on posting a comment, but how nice of you to buy this for your wife.

My parents grew up listening to the radio, do you know I don't think I have ever listened to one of those old time radio shows. I should try to find some online so both myself and my daughter can hear one.

I know The Andrew Sisters sang Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar. I LOVE the Andrew Sisters, and pretty much any music from the 1940's.

Jeni said...

I grew up listening to so many of the programs you mentioned - along with Fiber McGee and Molly, My Friend Irma too! Loved listening to those shows and you are so right about how radio made your imagination go to work! Great post, lots of memories and wow, what a really cool birthday gift you provided for your wife!