(Pictured: a farm near Madison, Wisconsin. Photo taken in 1945.)
With the world shutting down over coronavirus and people planning to stay inside (with no sports to watch), it’s a good time for me to put up a new podcast episode. It’s one of those I warned you about—one that has nothing to do with music or radio. If you want to catch up on the rest, eight other episodes are available at the usual spots: Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and my archive.
If I ever wanted to be a farmer like my father, I don’t remember it. Radio consumed me before my 11th birthday. The summer I turned 17 I got a job in town, and I never looked back. Farming is the hardest work I can imagine, and it’s not just physically hard. Your success depends on the whims of forces you cannot control, and the weather is only one of them. You have to be a little bit of an expert in everything, from horticulture to veterinary science to engine maintenance to accounting to animal husbandry to other things most people are not expert in one of, let alone a dozen or more.
At the time Dad sold his cows, he had milked cows twice a day, seven days a week, for over 50 years. Seven days a week. He milked cows in the morning, did other chores and/or planted and/or harvested crops all day, and then milked cows again that night. He worked maybe 15 hours a day, six days a week. If we went somewhere as a family on a Sunday, it wasn’t until after the morning milking was done, and we had to be home in time for the evening milking. (He worked only six or eight hours on those days.) If Dad had the flu, he milked the cows. If it was 20 below, he milked the cows. If it was 95 in the shade, he milked the cows.
It’s no wonder I never aspired to that life. It’s a wonder anyone did, or does.
The farm is a fine place to be from, however. I suspect it shaped me in ways I barely realize, even now, 40 years after I moved away.
The latest episode of my podcast is two separate stories linked by the farm. The first is about some of my years as a 4H kid. Even if you were not burning to be a farmer yourself in that time and place, 4H was what you did. I stayed with it long after I had decided farming was not for me. The second is about the farm itself. You and I will take a long walk around the place. I’ll show you what’s still there, what used to be there, and talk about what I remember.
Last fall, when I asked you to vote for the episode you’d like to hear next, this one very nearly finished first in the poll. So listen below, and let me know what you think of it.
In every profession, people sit around and tell stories. Car salesmen have stories unique to them. Teachers have theirs. Computer programmers have theirs. Your field, whatever it is, has its stories. And I have mine.
And I suppose that every profession thinks its stories are more colorful than anyone else’s. Radio stories do have certain unique characteristics, though. The job involves more close encounters with celebrities than most other professions. Radio often attracts oddball characters whose personalities range from bent to twisted. Some of my friends and colleagues have partied with rock superstars, seen fellow jocks engage in hilarious or embarrassing behavior (or engaged in it themselves), and have in general had the kind of experiences that you tell about for years after they happen.
My best stories are pretty milquetoast compared to those some of my friends can tell. I did, however, meet some famous people, work with some weirdos, and see some shit. Some of my stories are in the latest episode of my podcast.
—That time a television legend came to my town
—The most surreal job interview I ever had
—The tale of an especially terrible boss
—Brief encounters with curious listeners
You can listen to the episode right here:
Episodes are also available at Google Play, TuneIn and Stitcher, and can also be found at Apple Podcasts, if you swing that way. I appreciate your comments on this episode and others. If you listen on a platform where you can give the episode (or my whole podcast) a like or a positive rating, I hope you will.
Once again this year, Taylor Swift’s new Christmas song notwithstanding, America’s most popular Christmas music is old stuff. Mariah Carey’s 1994 “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is near the top of the Hot 100 again, and so is Brenda Lee’s 1960 “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” New stars like Pentatonix and Straight No Chaser will take up some playlist spots at radio stations, but it will be with songs that are in some cases generations old.
(Digression: can we for cryin’ out loud stop considering the Pentatonix version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to be a Christmas song?)
America’s obsession with Christmas music we’ve heard before is cause for lamentation every year, although I suspect that the loudest lamentators (is that a word?) are people who listen to Christmas music hardly at all anyway. Nevertheless, they worry about the rut we’re stuck in, how the worst of the holiday perennials reveals the average American as a irredeemable philistine, and so on—even as the average American continues to give not one single damn about their opinions.
I have a theory about why we keep going back to the well with these old songs. It’s one of the topics of my latest podcast episode, “Have Yourself an Easy-Listening Christmas.” You’ll also hear what some easy-listening fans might have considered “weird long-hair music,” and you can win absolutely nothing by guessing the title of a holiday song. You can hear the episode right here.
(Pictured: James Taylor, 2005.)
When I was a kid, I sometimes imagined my life as a book. Each day was a page with part of the story on it. Each year was a new chapter. I can’t remember if I ever thought about who the author was (or if I ever considered that I was the author). It wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about. It was just an image that popped into my head sometimes, at the end of a day, or the start of a day, on January 1, or on a birthday.
To the extent that we think about it at all, each of us has a story. Each of us could tell a tale that describes how we got from There to Here, a tale made up of angry confrontations, comedic set pieces, dramatic close shaves, and perplexing mysteries, with a supporting cast of heroes and villains and ourselves at the center, as the star.
Thinking of your life as a story and you as the star can have a side effect that’s something like the Heisenberg Principle: the idea from physics (grossly oversimplified here) that just by observing a phenomenon, you change the way it behaves. If you think of every day as a page in your story, or a scene from your movie, with you as the star, isn’t it possible that you start playing the part of You, as you imagine You to be, instead of just being you?
There’s a very good argument that we already do this, every one of us. I’d read about the phenomenon but had never seen it up close until I spent an evening with James Taylor, among 22,000 people playing the part of prosperous middle-aged boomers on a big night out. That realization and that night make up part of my latest podcast episode, which also wades into the question of why boomers keep listening to the music of their youth, and why Gen X and Millennials, for all their current OK-Boomer self-righteousness, are likely to keep listening to theirs. The episode is below:
This and earlier episodes are also available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play, TuneIn and Stitcher. I appreciate your earholes wherever you point them, and I also appreciate likes, positive ratings, and reviews if your listening platform allows you do to any of that. And I thank everybody who voted for this post in last week’s poll. If you voted for one of the other options, fear not. You’ll hear them eventually.
Most radio stations, and the corporate groups that own them, still understand that they have some responsibility to deliver information to the communities they serve. In a lot of cases, that information is rudimentary: traffic reports, sports scores, “three things you need to know.” The days when it required a fully staffed newsroom are long gone. Even stations that still do formal newscasts aren’t necessarily hiring reporters to do them. The newscasts you hear on your local station may be written and delivered by somebody whose main training is not as a journalist.
Somebody like me, for example.
Apart from a one-semester course in high school, I have never had any formal training in journalism. But as a young radio man, I was fortunate enough to work with highly skilled broadcast journalists, and I learned what to do by watching and listening to them. On the air as a DJ, I sometimes find myself in the position of having to deliver the news, not in the formal newscast sense, but when a big story breaks while I’m on the air. Then, too, I rely on the lessons I learned watching legitimate pros of my acquaintance do their jobs.
(One thing I learned from those pros is that they would have disavowed the highfalutin’ term “broadcast journalist.” They would say that they were “radio reporters,” or “newsmen,” as the gender fit.)
The long-delayed fifth episode of my podcast is called “Delivering the News.” It’s about my experiences playing at radio newsman, about some of the people who taught me how to do it, and some of the memorable breaking-news stories I have reported as a DJ. You can listen to it right here.
This episode and earlier episodes are now available at Apple Podcasts. You can also find them at Google Play, TuneIn, and Stitcher. You can subscribe at my Soundcloud, too. I hope you enjoy the new one, and I welcome your comments on it.
The Pioneer Era of Recording spans the period from the late 1880s, when Thomas Edison’s 1877 invention, the phonograph, became simple enough to be operated by non-experts, to about 1920, when electrical methods of recording replaced Edison’s old acoustic methods. Some of the most famous songs ever written first appeared during the Pioneer Era, performed by people who became popular, bankable stars. The vast majority of those stars, however, are almost entirely forgotten a century later.
I have had a longstanding interest in the Pioneer Era, and I have written about it at this website now and then. The latest episode of my podcast is about the Pioneer Era. It describes the birth of the era, profiles a few of the big stars, and even includes bits of some significant Pioneer Era songs. You can listen to it right here:
Follow my Soundcloud for new episodes, or subscribe to this website to be notified of new episodes (and every other damn thing we do here). The podcast is also available at Google Play, Tune In, and Stitcher. I hope you find this episode interesting, and your comments are welcome.