Way Back Home

It’s nine years today since we officially moved to Madison, spending our first night in our new place. The Mrs. and I have been here so long now that it’s hard to remember just how badly we wanted to get here, and for how long.

I grew up about hour away, but I have no memories of coming here before I was 10. Once the big shopping mall opened, in October 1970, a month in which all things seem to have begun, my family would periodically come up to shop on Sunday afternoons. Malls were not ubiquitous then; they could still amaze with their exotic spaces—sunken lounges, fountains—and stores you wouldn’t find anywhere else. We marveled at the existence of a place that sold nothing but pretzels, and I bought lots of records at the Victor Music store. My aunt and uncle moved here in 1972, which meant that summer vacations with my cousin were now trips to the big city. He was pretty good at navigating the bus system, so we moved easily from their house on the west side to downtown and back. It didn’t take long before I became a connoisseur of the State Street scene, although I’d like to see it back then with the eyes I have now.

But you didn’t have to visit Madison to feel steeped in its culture. Most of the TV we watched came from Madison’s three network affiliates and its PBS station, and I read the Wisconsin State Journal every day. Places you’d never seen became familiar thereby. You knew about Rennebohm Rexall Drug Stores before you ever set foot in one, and Manchester’s Department Store, and the Strand Theater. You knew the names of major streets like Atwood Avenue, Pflaum Road, and Mifflin Street long before you knew where they went. And you knew Madison’s local celebrities, from mayors to sports stars to characters famous and infamous.

It was the mid 70s before Madison radio became as influential to me as Madison TV. I discovered Z104, an automated FM rock station, shortly after it threw the switch in the fall of 1974, and I listened a little to WISM, the AM Top 40 station, although its signal at home wasn’t especially good, and to WIBA-FM during its days as a free-form rock station. It didn’t take long before a gig in Madison radio began to seem to me like the best of all possible careers—if Chicago radio didn’t work out. When it came time to go to college, I desperately wanted to attend the University of Wisconsin. But it didn’t have the kind of broadcasting program I wanted, so I ended up at another school, which turned out to be the right choice after all. I found radio jobs in Iowa and in Illinois, but I hoped I’d get to Madison someday.

Finally, in 2000, out of radio entirely, we were able to make the move. I remember a conversation with The Mrs. in which I said that even if the job I was taking turned out to be a poor choice, at least we’d be back in Wisconsin. (After it turned out I was right about the job being a poor choice, being in Wisconsin was less consolation than I hoped it would be, although it must have helped a little.) We’ve been here ever since, and while the thought that either of us might be able to advance our careers elsewhere occasionally flits across our minds, we never take it seriously. This is where we belong, and it’s where we expect to stay.

Here’s a tune originally done by the Crusaders, performed here by the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, which is probably the best local band we’ve got. Westside Andy is a monster harmonica player, and he frequently hops off the stage and strolls through the audience while playing this tune.

“Way Back Home”/Westside Andy-Mel Ford Band (from Live on the Westside; buy it here)

One thought on “Way Back Home

  1. Pingback: A Lot of Music in It | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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