Above, a landmark of my youth: The transmission building for WSYR radio in my hometown of Syracuse. Located on Valley Drive at the city's southern end, a few blocks south of my family's house, WSYR's trio of towers loomed above our neighborhood (they're easy to spot as you travel along Interstate 81), broadcasting its 5,000 watts throughout central New York. The antennas had been there since the 1940s, predating our fifties subdivision.
Perhaps those towers had something to do with my fascination for radio since my childhood. In the mid-1960s, I discovered that at night, you could pick up stations far removed from Syracuse. (Let me emphasize that I'm talking about AM radio. Back then, FM was basically limited to college radio and characterless "beautiful music.")
I could pick up WABC out of New York, digging "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and the latest news of Beatlemania. I could listen to sports events from out of town; in fact, one memorable night I could hear an NBA game being played in Syracuse through KMOX out of St. Louis (I believe it was the 1967-68 season, the year before the Hawks moved to Atlanta).
I have a feeling that radio has a similar hold on many of you, just as it has on the American public since the 1920s and 1930s. But sad to say, many of us have become disconnected from radio of recent years. There's bombastic "talk" radio, sports radio that sometimes seems to be more about attitude than sports, or music formats you simply can't relate to.
Am I sounding like a crusty old you-know-what? Gee, I hope not. But I sense those of you who reguarly read "Carole & Co." have a fondness for the popular culture that enveloped the U.S. from the 1920s to, say, the 1960s -- culture Carole Lombard was part of during her too-brief life, in radio as well as films. And aside from a few pockets, that culture is pretty hard to find on radio these days.
That's why I'm pleased to let you know about a radio station, just across Lake Ontario from Oswego and Syracuse, that's keeping the tradition of full-service AM radio alive. It's at 740 on the dial, and if you're anywhere in the northeast quadrant of the continental U.S., you can pick it up at night...or just go to your computer and visit http://www.am740.ca
The station calls itself "Zoomer Radio" and is geared toward people 40 and up. But it's a lively station, with an intriguing array of programs. Among them (all times Eastern):
"The Sixties At Six" (6 to 7 p.m.) -- This is hosted by the knowledgable Robbie Lane, who with his band the Disciples had a number of Canadian hits in the sixties and still performs regularly. The '60s show airs Monday to Friday; on Saturday, Lane hosts a British Invasion show that's just as good.
"Sentimental Journey" (7 to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday) -- Three hours of standards, mostly from the '40s and '50s.
"Theater Of The Mind" (10 to 11 p.m., Monday to Thursday) -- if you like old-time radio, you'll enjoy this program. The first half-hour usually is dramatic fare, followed by a comedy
"Stardust" (11 p.m. to midnight, Monday to Thursday) -- Nat Cole's "Stardust" opens this hour of thoughtful romantic songs, hosted by a lady named Ziggy.
"Midnight Blue" (midnight to 1 a.m., Monday to Thursday) -- the station amusingly promotes this as "radio's only X-rated program"; it's actually an hour of double-entendre songs (e.g., the Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie" or the Dominoes' "Sixty-Minute Man").
"Friday Night Bandstand" (7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays). This program focuses on rock through about 1963, including a featured artist, a top five flashback and a half-hour of Elvis Presley at 10.
There are a number of weekend music programs, too, focusing on Broadway, big bands and more.
Some things for American listeners to keep in mind:
As is Canadian custom, temperatures are normally given in Celsius and, less frequently, Fahrenheit. So if you hear it's "four" in Toronto, it's actually what we Americans would call about 40.
There is something called "Canadian content" in that nation's media, where radio stations that carry music by law must broadcast a certain percentage of material by Canadian performers. So on 740, expect to hear a lot of Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Paul Anka and Jack Scott. (I'm not saying they aren't good artists, just that you may hear more of them than you'd expect.)
Nevertheless, this is a wonderful station to listen to, no matter which side of the border you're on. Give it a try, either on your computer or some night if you're within distance of their considerable signal.
To leave you, here's the first hit by a Canadian band you'll hear a lot of on AM 740 -- the Guess Who -- but this was a hit four years before "These Eyes" established them in the spring of 1969. It's their definitive version of the British rock chestnut "Shakin' All Over." Enjoy.