Sometimes Screwups On Radio Were More Fun Than The Programs


As I’m sure you already know, mountains and long distance radio reception don’t mix. FM is a bust, and even AM leaves a lot to be desired. Drive back out of the mountains and the dial just comes alive with stations. But up here? Let just say we’re lucky we have some decent local stations.

Long distance reception used to be a problem with TV too, but we’ve become such entertainment addicts that someone figured out we were willing to pay to get better reception. So here came cable and dish. I’m like everybody else, of course, but I wonder what my mother would say about the money we shell out these days.

Heart-attack city!

I arrived in Mesa around the time cable was coming into its own. Most people in the Valley still had regular antennas, but new housing developments came with built-in cable. And cable was just worming its way into the Rim Country, as I soon discovered.

I was not too happy with the reception in a little house I rented in the Valley. A wrinkle in a hill interfered with Channels 10 and 12. I saw an ad for a used Channelmaster Champion antenna in one of the classified fliers that were popular back then. The price was good, and I knew the antenna was the best there was, so I called up and asked where I could go to see it.

“Show Low,” the man on the other end of the line said.

“Where’s that?”

That was how I found out that cable was taking over in the small towns up here. And no, I didn’t hop in the car to take a look at the antenna. Remember what 87 was like back then?

When I got up here I was already addicted to cable channels, so I signed up, first for cable, and later on for satellite. But radio? Had it not been for the fact that KAHM comes in up here, I would have lost every station I listened to.

I like KAHM. Calm. You know? Calm is what I came up here for. In fact, if I didn’t have to use the car to go grocery shopping ...

But then that’s another story.

Because I spent so many of my younger years out of the country, I came to rely on radio more than most people. Overseas television is a total bust unless you happen to be stationed over in England, where it’s “OK.”

I’ll never forget the first time I turned on a TV set in Japan and heard Tonto and the Lone Ranger speaking Japanese. Believe me, it just wasn’t the same. I spent a whole hour rolling around on the floor. After that, the set stayed off. My heart just couldn’t take that much laughing.

So no TV, but we had AFRS, the Armed Forces Radio Service. They gave us the news, played music, and ran some radio programs.

Which brings me to the earlier days on radio. I’m sure you all remember “Gunsmoke,” one of the longest running series on television. Well, when I was up in Iceland in ’52 and ’53, Gunsmoke was still on radio. Good old Matt Dillon, a tough, fast-shooting marshal with an attitude. Listened to Gunsmoke all the time. That voice, low and gravelly, went with the image formed in your head — a big, tall cowboy who could amble up to his mount, step over its back, and settle himself in the saddle.

On television James Arness fitted the image perfectly, but I noticed the voice was different, nowhere near as rough and ready as the radio voice. Then one day, purely by accident (because I’m sure they were trying to keep it as quiet as possible) I learned the truth and did another one of those roll around on the floor things.

Two hours this time.

You know who played big, tall, strapping, as western as a six-gun Matt Dillon on the radio?

Brace yourself! You’re not going to believe this.

Remember the slow moving, overweight private eye on TV named Cannon? The one whose girth and height were the same? With six chins? Think about that deep voice of his. Then think about the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke.

You got it! Same guy.

Boy! That puts a crimp in that radio image, doesn’t it?

Makes you wonder why they named that program “Cannon?”

“Cannon?” Uh-uh. “Cannonball” maybe.

I don’t even want to know who played the part of Miss Kitty on the radio.

Probably the same little lady that played the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Of course, that was part of the magic of radio. You couldn’t see a danged thing. You just listened and created images in your head. So when Superman said, “Up, up, and away!” and that swishing sound came out of the speaker you could see him soaring into the blue over Metropolis. Look out, bad guys!

Just wasn’t the same when they put it on TV. I used to worry the foam rubber muscles under that sweat shirt might fall off.

And that telephone booth thing? Sounded good on the radio. “Quickly, he slipped into a nearby telephone booth.”

Ever try changing clothes in a telephone booth?

You better be a dwarf.

And you better hope nobody wants to use the phone.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing in there, you pervert?”

I will say though, when “The Hound of the Baskervilles” episode came on Sherlock Holmes one night it scared my poor 8-year-old body out of at least a year’s growth.

About which I have a complaint.

How come mothers are allowed to go to the movies and leave a poor dumb kid alone at home?

With the radio turned on?

In the dark!

Bill Cosby once said, “Just turn it off, idiot!”

Yeah, sure. I’m getting out of the covers and strolling across the room while some 8-foot-tall dog with burning coals for eyes is drooling all over the linoleum and waiting to eat me.

That’s why we loved radio. It was as screwed up as we were.


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