Do you remember the radio?
I’m not talking about satellite radio, Sirius radio, or any such modern wizardry. I’m talking about that magical time when the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny and Boston Blackie came pouring out of that big box in your living room. I’m talking real radio.
Music came pounding out of the one in my parents’ house, much to their chagrin, as soon as I discovered that the primeval sounds of doo-wop, rhythm & blues, blues and rock ‘n’ roll and my teenage hormones went together, as the Moonglows sing, “like two straws in a Coke.”
That music was irresistible. It shaped my youthful musical tastes, and later my somewhat grownup ones. It was also quite often pressed into service as an aid in very close, very slow dancing, another hormonal force that shaped my early years. But I digress.
As technology moved on, so did I. Soon most of my music came on record (vinyl, if you prefer), first 45s and then LPs. Then cassettes (I never did like eight-tracks), then CDs, and now, digital, when the sounds again flow magically out of the clouds.
But radio never gave up. There is still a lot of music to be found on that dial, but much of it is repetitive and unsatisfying — formatted to a particular genre or style, with little thought to the more interesting aspects of musical enjoyment. I’m talking about its rich history, its broad roots, its interwoven cultural tapestries. Who made it, and when, and how. Especially all that music that was descended from the blues that captured my young imagination.
My original hormonal source is long gone — the golden oldies and dusty discs of Porky Chedwick, the Platter Pushin’ Poppa, the Daddio of the Raddio, Pork the Tork, at a tiny Pittsburgh, Pa., radio station, where he began spinning those sounds in 1948. It’s where I began to absorb and unwrap the mysteries of all this classic American music that seemed to be waiting just for me.
All of that is just a long-winded way of saying that these days I listen to a radio program that gives me what I used to get, many years ago. I guess if you live long enough, your life comes around again. Or something.
My hormonal uptake station now is mainlined through WMNF public radio in Tampa, Fla. My main squeeze there (although there’s loads of fine programming) is The Rhythm Revival from 3-6 p.m. Fridays, hosted by the inimitable, irrepressible and extremely musically knowledgeable Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and his equally inimitable musical partner, Marvelous Marvin Boone.
Together they spin out a musical history that includes gospel, blues, R&B, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and just about anything that feels right to them.
They talk about how all this music fits together, tell tales about the performers, relive their own experiences (Wirtz seems to have had multitudinous exotic experiences of his own) in the musical world, and just generally seem to enjoy themselves, playing music they love. Often, it’s obscure music from their own collections. And quite often, it’s music on a record. Yes!
As they’re fond of saying, you will not likely hear much of this music anywhere else. That’s kind of sad, but true.
And, as it happens, it’s also music that I love. So my teen genes are happy again, despite having aged considerably. Music like this is better than the Fountain of Youth (especially since the music actually exists).
Now, however, because the pipes of the internet run far and wide, you are no longer required to move to the Tampa Bay area to hear this great music. And you can pump it through whatever speaker system you’ve built to produce the sparkling sound it deserves.
So how do you find this great stuff, no matter where you are?
WMNF public radio (that means no advertising!) is found here on your internet dial. If you can’t make it during the broadcast (yes, they’re live), there’s an online archive you where you can play the show for the week after. Here’s the schedule of all the station’s shows. And, yes, there’s a Facebook page, and it has a playlist from each show. Check Wirtz’s own page for other personal gigs.
Also, if you ever sail on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, you’re very likely to find him holding forth in the piano bar.
But now it’s time to turn on the radio.
And here’s a video/audio of The Rev at work: