My first heartstrings got pulled way back in 1951 up on our Robinson Hill family farm in Maple Corner. Back then, of course, the only electronic medium was radio and over our scratchy parlor model I, round-faced 3-year-old, fell in love with the voice behind “Tennessee Waltz.” And I’m not just talkin’ music here.
Yup, th’ old radio left everything non-audio up to the imagination and somehow at the ripe old age of 3, boy, did I imagine. “I wuv Pahhi Page,” I’d say, not knowing a thing about her looks or, for that matter, anything about “birds and bees.” Patti Page recently passed away at 85 and, y’know, it was only then that TV gave me my first look at her.
“Pretty good eye for a 3-year-old,” I said,.
We must have been smarter back in radio times. These days, everything is presented to us in high-resolution, full-color. In other words, my capacity for “imagination” has been stifled most of my life now.
My older brother Elliott told me yesterday of a popular radio show a bit before my time. “It was called ‘The Shadow,’” he said, “and, boy, was it ever scary.” He went on to describe the barn up there on Robinson Hill where the men-folk, including my two older brothers, spent much of their lives what with “the milkings both mornin’ and night and the cleanin’ in between.”
His description included the old barn radio. “It was a fixture in that stable, daubed with cow manure and constantly on. That ‘Shadow’ show would be playin’ just before Tick and I had to go up to th’ hayloft and throw hay down at night.” He remembered the hayloft as a dark place full of shadows — shadows brought to life for two terrified boys by a creepy voice over the airwaves.
Here in Central Vermont, all of us older folks are fortunate to have grown up with another radio phenomenon, WDEV from over in Waterbury. WDEV was a fixture in these parts even before my little affair with Patti Page, and The Trading Post has been part of its programming for all those years. Although that major life tenet, “everything must change” affects things like The Old Man of the Mountain and the course of the Missouri River, it doesn’t seem to apply to the Trading Post.
For all those years, six mornings a week like clockwork or milkin’ time, that show starts the same way with canned “moos, bleats and cock-a-doodle-doos,” and the station’s own words of disclaimer: “Maximum three items per call; one vehicle per caller per program; no personal ads; wait three days between call-in shows. For private sale — not for corporations or businesses, including home-based business.” Those are the rules, but there’s a whole population out there just waitin’ t’ break ‘em rules like a fast-talkin’ guy from Wolcott wanting to sell his “Chivvy” one time:
“Yahhh, gotta senty-foah Chivvy f’ sale,” he spewed. “She’s got foah-fiftah-foah husspowah, foah-speed stick an, mistah man, she’s just a-smokin’ sumbitch!”
“Sir,” the radio guy interrupted, panic in his voice, “y’can’t use language like that on the radio and if you do again we’ll have to shut you off!”
“B-b-b-but” the Wolcott man struggled, defending the only language he knew, “y’list all them rules at th’ begginin’ an’, sh--, nowhere d’ ya say ‘no swearin’!”
Then there’s been a lady on a lot lately (and oh yes, she waits three days between times — exactly three days). “Gotta wabbit, a wooster, and an ode wockin’ chair. If y’ want any call me ovah t’ Pwainfield.” Every time I hear her, my imagination peaks like my brothers’ did in that dark hayloft. I want to meet that dear lady even if it means buying a “wooster” that I need like a hole-in-the-head.
I know, folks my age can always defend things from “back in the good ol’ days” as better and I know you modern folks would argue that point. Even I watch my share of TV these days and will admit there’s some amazing stuff on it. Sure, some of TV’s programming begs a little imagination, but these days, what you see is what you get.
Back in the good ol’ days, “what you didn’t see” was the best part and I sure appreciate WDEV Radio, “The Shadow,” and most especially, my first love, Patti Page, for that.
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.MORE IN Commentary
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