I was at one of my favorite Italian joints in Old Forge, PA tonight for dinner, Arcaro & Genell. As usual, seating was at a premium and I had to wait for a table. While sipping a Blue Moon complete with a slice of orange, two friends of mine walked in; Suzanne and Bill Kelly.
Suzanne hangs her hat at the Lands at Hillside Farms which bills itself as “a non-profit, regional educational center and historic farm estate,” complete with cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, steer and the most adorable little piglets you have ever seen. Being an animal lover the first topic of conversation was the piglets. Now three weeks old, 13 of them were born and unfortunately their mother died shortly after their birth. Since then, volunteers have been taking the pigs home, bottle feeding them every two hours and reluctantly returning them to the farm.
I would love to foster a pair of pigs for a night, but alas, Suzanne said there’s a waiting list!
After the animal chatter was out of the way, the topic turned to radio. Bill is an old radio guy and has been the president of our local PBS affiliate, WVIA-TV/FM for many years. Bill, like myself, got his start in radio while in his early teens. I started at 15, but I think he’s got me beat by a year or too. Anyway, once you put a couple of old radio guys in a room, just try to get them to talk about anything but their craft and how its changed for the worse over the years.
We reminisced about folks we both knew in local radio. Shared crazy stories about shenanigans that happened while doing remote broadcasts from county fairs and church festivals. Laughed at general managers who used trade as a means of personal enrichment. Wondered just how 48 hours of continual polka music on a weekend garnished huge ratings. And lamented about how live radio has been replaced by voice tracking and computers.
Long gone are the days when we would walk into a production room with a pile of copy, a reel of tape, and a fresh razor blade to record a spot for the local tire company. Forgotten are the four or six hour air shifts, now that shift is digitally voice tracked by a guy in Miami who records the same thing for 35 other stations around the country and doesn’t know Wilkes-Barre from Sacramento.
Radio has changed for the worse over the past 15 years. Long gone are the independently owned local stations. Now the 25 stations in your backyard are owned by two corporations instead of 25 local broadcasters. AM is a wasteland relegated to the lowly souls who are seeking Jesus through their radio speakers. FM is fighting to hold on to what’s left after satellite radio and the iPod put the banana peel next to the grave.
I was happy to spend a few minutes talking about old times with Bill and remembering what radio was like “back then” even tho “back then” wasn’t so long ago. The stories we shared and the memories we brought back will remain with us forever long after the corporate raiders and investment bankers put the final nail into radio’s coffin. It’s unfortunate that the young folks entering into the field of broadcasting today will never experience what it was really like to be a broadcaster like Bill, myself and the folks before us have.
And that’s unfortunate.