The last several months, I’ve been doing a lot of internal work, and one of the things I’ve struggled with has been trying to find the good in some of the things in my past that seem to get me lost in memory and in melancholy.
But, today, it happened.
Growing up, my brother and I weren’t allowed to watch television, though we found ways around that often. It was a religious thing, and something my father later decided was a bunch of bunk … but from the age of zero to 16, there wasn’t one in our house.
This doesn’t mean there wasn’t entertainment in our home; we weren’t one of those families that memorized Leviticus on Saturday nights for fun, but … entertainment was different. First, I found my love for reading during childhood, and often bought boxes of books and comics at flea markets and garage sales during the summer and devour them on lazy, hot days.
We also listened to … radio. Not country/western; not gospel on Sundays … nothing like that. Since “radio” wasn’t a sin like that “one-eyed devil” (television), I would sit in front of the radio at home and turn the station to our local NPR station after school, and once All Things Considered was done for the evening, I would listen to whatever “Old Time Radio” program they had dredged up from the vaults. You may not know, but before TV was king, ABC, CBS, and NBC got their start providing the nation with radio comedy, dramas, soap operas … pretty much the same thing they do for television now, except you had to bring your own imagination. These weren’t books on tape … it was scripted drama, with sound effects. Imagine movies, or your favorite TV show … now imagine listening to it with your eyes closed.
I was fortunate that this retrospective renaissance was a “thing” during the mid-to-late eighties on public radio. While kids my age were watching The Cosby Show, Knight Rider and MacGyver, I was in front of my dad’s stereo system listening to Suspense, Screen Director’s Playhouse, Fibber McGee & Mollie, or Our Miss Brooks. Yeah, you’ve never heard of them … but if your grandparents or great-grandparents were American, this was their TGIF on Friday nights. I knew Agnes Moorehead from radio long before I heard a snarky word from her on re-runs of Bewitched.
To capitalize on this fad, NPR dabbled in radio plays themselves, or rather … they rebroadcast audio dramas from BBC (who never stopped producing scripted radio entertainment), and CBC. My favorite was a Canadian horror radio show called Nightfall. Think of “Twilight Zone” with your eyes closed. Today, I listened to an episode from their archives. “Child’s Play” was the episode; and although I hadn’t heard that story in 25 years, I was amazed at what I remembered, and what dialogue I quoted along with the actors.
My first exposure to Star Wars was an NPR/BBC production of the trilogy over a period of years. One might think I missed out by not watching those movies as a young boy in the theater, but did I? The sound affects were just as spectacular, and it was recorded in LA, with some of the same actors. The original film series was six hours and some change … the radio adaptation was over 14 hours, the story being fleshed out to a great deal more detail, and played out over several weeks to introduce a new generation to public radio. Having seen the films now several times, I still think I got the better end of the deal as a child – being forced to exercise an imagination that wasn’t limited by George Lucas’ mind. Ditto with BBC Radio’s 26-episode version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Eventually, I grew up, left home, and left my original faith. It’s easy to look on many aspects of those years with sadness … but that one part, that one small part, somehow was better for me than if I had a different experience.
No … I wasn’t robbed. I was blessed, even if it was only accidental.