Radio has long been integral to my life.  I have it on from the time I awake to when I go to sleep, although TV and DVD listening fill other points of my time when I am not engaged in other ways.   As a writer and newsman most of my life, I am drawn to news and commentary programming that radio does well. I spend less of my time listening to music stations.  Yet, I look back on my radio-listening history and see I gravitated from one form of  radio listening to another.

While we can do split-screen TV to try to take advantage of  two competing things, it isn’t really possible with radio.  One has to choose one station at a time and risk missing the good discussions, news and music on other stations.  Car radio buttons are great for moving back and forth, but I cannot always succeed in getting the settings to work.

I first remember listening in the early 1950s to radio theatre like “Fibber Magee and Molly” and to the news, delivered with gusto at noon by Jack Shelley from WHO 1040 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Jack was later my professor for a radio/TV  journalism class at Iowa State University.)  As a kid living nearby in Polk City, I remember a regular radio show, “The National Farm and Home Hour” where Everett Mitchell came on and began his show with the zesty words, “It’s a Beautiful Day in Chicago!!” On Sunday mornings, we had the cartoon section from the Des Moines Sunday Register spread out on the floor as someone read the words to those comics on the air.

Later as a farm boy assigned to milk the cows, I relied on the plastic radio in the barn.  It was either tuned into the music from KWWL radio in Waterloo,  KWMT radio from Fort Dodge with great rock music of the 1960s or WHO from Des Moines with talk radio.  Sometimes it was WMT (600 AM) radio from Cedar Rapids. Their “Sunday Night Pops Concert” with Jerry Carr, “The Ole Cherokee,” was amazing radio — uplifting and rich with sayings, expressions, poetry and a smorgasbord of music. (Jerry, who shared my birthday, died in 2003 at age 76 — an icon in Eastern Iowa radio).

When we moved to Arizona in 1984, I was a real fan of KTAR (620 AM). When KFYI (first 910 AM and now 550 AM) came on the air 25 years ago, I quickly became a fan of their talk radio format — balanced with personalities from the right and left of the political spectrum.  But then they went totally conservative, and they lost me.   Later, I largely abandoned KTAR because it shifted strongly to the right with national talk show hosts and a stable of 20- to 40-something guys who are firebrands for the right.  I was heartened with Air America went on the air to counter right-wing radio. The KPHX (1480 AM) station rose and fell from financial and management, tied in to Air America, which went bankrupt.  Off the air for a time, KPHX rebounded with most of the same national and local personalities without the Air America connection.

When Air America fizzled and before the rebound of KPHX, I turned to National Public Radio, NPR, and KJZZ (91.5 FM).  I have truly come to feel like I have found a radio home there, for many reasons.   It is truly more insightful, more informing and more idea-based than anything else on the air.  The fact that the segments are longer and richer in details and the  interviews feature sources who can talk for minutes, instead of 10-second sound bites. The shows’ analysis and the focus on the world set it apart.  NPR staffers are  so articulate, extremely capable at interviewing and true specialists in their niches of world issues. NPR has its own style of broadcast sound that gives it character and sophistication.

NPR cannot be topped for its offerings of daylong programming:  “Morning Edition,” a two-hour block of national and Arizona news and analysis; “The Diane Rehm Show,” featuring an icon in radio whose trademark vocal cords don’t limit her two-hour university of ideas and guests; “Fresh Air”; “Talk of the Nation”;  “All Things Considered”; and international news broadcasts. Show after show is rich with magazine-like examination of issues.   Its weekend offerings are rich in cultural and specialized programming.  At the heart of that is “A Prairie Home Companion,” the classic two-hour mix of music and comedy of Garrison Keillor, who keeps us informed on the  character of mythical Lake Wobegon.

Then at night, I turn to KFYI for segments of “Coast to Coast  AM,” with George Noory. From 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., listeners are exposed to the metaphysical, paranormal and unorthodox world.  Noory and others hosts like Art Bell, George Knapp and Ian Punnett spend the night talking to writers, investigators, psychics and the woo-woo people who discuss UFOs, the occult, shadow people, crop circles, remote viewing, the excesses of religious faiths, science fiction, astronomy, hauntings and hollow earth theories, for example. Alas, sleep intercedes and I miss so much of their shows, although I have to option to go to their archives.

At times, I enjoy  to spend time with “Beth and Friends” on KEZ (99.9 FM) in the morning and the great oldies of KOY (1230 AM), the state’s oldest station.

I have not mentioned the radio shows that, to me, represent hate radio, with personalities who spend their time raising fear and spreading distrust. I refuse to listen them and give them any credibility.

All in all, radio is so alive and well and never boring.

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