How We Listened by
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Prompted By Remembering Radios

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Like any self-respecting teenage girl, I listened to Top 40 radio incessantly. As someone growing up in the shadow of Motown, of course, I loved that music, but listened to it all, and think the mid-60s were a remarkable moment in time; Motown and British invasion music flourished side by side. They couldn’t be more different, but they were both wonderful to sing along to and particularly to dance to. I had a clock radio on the night stand between my twin beds. It looked similar to the one in the Featured photo. I found that I couldn’t listen to music while doing homework (I couldn’t concentrate on my studies; I wanted to sing along), but as soon as I was finished, on came the radio so I could listen to all the tunes. I propped myself up on the floor between the beds and played solitaire, or danced to the music in front of the mirror above my dresser.

On June 6, 1968, the news of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination blared from my clock radio and stirred me from slumber. I pulled the covers over my head and sobbed. My mother came in to find out why I wasn’t up yet. I could barely get out the words, “They got Bobby too.”

I loved to dance, so whether a tune was dance-worthy was important to me. I learned all the dance crazes of the moment. We practiced during Home Ec while we waited for our food to cook. Someone brought in a transistor radio which we were allowed to turn on during this waiting period. I learned the Freddie, the Mashed Potato, the Boog-a-loo, the Hully-Gully, the Jerk, the Shimmy, the Swim; yes they all had funny names and athletic moves that our partner might mirror, or we’d just go off with our girlfriends. I dated a bit, but didn’t really have any serious boyfriends until college. I just liked to dance and would prance around my bedroom, or with a girlfriend on a sleepover, while listening to her radio which looked similar to mine.

Heartbreak was always a popular theme and I was a sucker for all its forms. I remember a sleepover at my friend Marcy’s one night, probably in 9th grade. We obsessively listened to the Shangri-La’s “Walking in the Sand” (though it was from 1964 and this night was later, so either she had the 45, or we listened to an oldies station – did such a thing exist at that time, I wonder). We danced to it, lamented with it; it somehow spoke to our young, tender hearts.

That 9th grade year (1966-’67), Marcy and I, with other friends, attended the Spring semi-formal as seen in the following photo. It was called the Girl’s Lit Club Dance, since it was sponsored by that club. By my senior year, I belonged, but was never sure what they did, as I was too busy with the plays to attend any meetings. Marcy was dating her guy, as was Debbie, the other girl in the photo. My date was the younger brother of one of the boys. He was just a friend. But we all had a nice time and danced to the hits we heard on the radio that season.

Spring semi-formal, 1967, from left to right: Debbie, Betsy, Marcy, Danny, Dave, and older brother Phil

As the years progressed, my taste in music turned to the folk singers and troubadours like Carole King, James Taylor and Peter, Paul and Mary. I listened to FM radio, but still certain stations dominated the airwaves.

In college I had an alarm clock and separate radio, set up on the built-in set of drawers. I used it exclusively to listen to music. Rod Stewart always seemed to have a hit song at the beginning of each school year. I loved it as he wailed about Maggie Mae.

When Dan left his first job, in 1977, he was given this exact clock radio pictured above as a farewell gift, but someone stuck the company logo inside the frame as a reminder of the company he was about to depart. That clock was on our nightstand for years (it later wound up on my home office desk until its final demise). The president of Pilot Executive Software, my last job before having David in 1985, had worked for GE. He lived a few blocks away from me and came over to help me load the 40 pounds of computer equipment I carried to meetings to demonstrate our product (we needed a special graphics card in the PC, which was then placed in a specially padded suitcase). I could get it out of my car and onto a wheeled carrier, but not lift it up, into my car, so if Dan was out of town, Tom would do it for me. The first time he came over, he made a bee-line to that clock radio (our condo wasn’t very big and the bedroom was visible from the condo entrance). He had been the executive in charge of manufacturing it and was delighted to see it in use.

And speaking of Pilot Executive Software, I worked there from October, 1984 – September, 1985. They were located in downtown Boston. We lived in the Back Bay at the time, about a 4 mile walk to work. I became pregnant about six weeks after joining the company, but still walked to work on days when I was in the office. Like many women at the time, I put my heels, small purse and important files in a canvas bag, slung over my shoulder, put on sneakers, plugged my earphones into my Walk Man radio and listened to tunes or news as I walked up Beacon Hill, then down into the Financial District to work. As I grew larger and larger (and, being quite petite, I had no where to go but OUT, so I grew very large), my pregnancy pantyhose, started to droop. I’d stop at the Parker House, pop into the Ladies Room, hike them up and continue on my way. On my way home one day, I saw a crowd gathered outside the hotel. I dimly noticed someone, walked a pace or two, turned back and realized they were fussing over Julian Lennon, who did look remarkably like his father.

Bose wave radio

Now we have this Bose wave radio both in Newton and on Martha’s Vineyard on our night stands. I listen to classical music, if I listen to music at all, but most of the time, I use it to listen to CDs, or just as an alarm clock, though our iPhones do that job too. We had one stolen during a massive renovation on Martha’s Vineyard in 2003 (certainly one of the crew did it, but couldn’t prove it, so we let it go). We bought a cheap-o, non-Bose version for use in the sunroom. Unfortunately, it is no longer working. Even the display is no longer visible. I wanted to buy a good one last summer, but they are no longer available in white and black just wouldn’t look right in that room, so I’m stuck.

Now, while driving in my car (which is the only time I listen to the radio), it is always tuned to WBUR, the NPR station broadcast from Boston University. I have that station preset for both home and on their Cape and Islands affiliate. I stay up with the news in a very detailed way through their programs and enjoy On Point, Fresh Air, Radio Boston, All Things Considered, and whatever I happen to pick up that day, though I tend to drive short distances, so rarely get to hear an entire program. No more Top 40 for me. I don’t ever know the musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Now, I’m a relic.

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Your story and pictures speak for so many of us, Betsy, both in terms of the evolution of our radios and what we have listened to over the years. As such, you have so nicely captured (as has this prompt) much of the popular culture of our generation. And, like you, while I’m often listening to something these days, it is rarely on broadcast radio.

    Incidentally, I have been able to find reconditioned Bose Wave radios — still the best! — on Amazon fairly easily and bought a couple. Not cheap, but pretty much the real deal. As they say, you just might wanna check it out.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for the tip about Bose Wave radios, John. I might have looked last year. I’m not sure if I saw the reconditioned ones, or if I was nervous about buying them, but I suppose for the sunroom it wouldn’t matter, so long as it looked decent and sort of works!

      I don’t claim to speak for our generation, but I think I was fairly typical for my era, and even now. Who are those musical guests on SNL (well, last week was Miley Cyrus…I do know her)?

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for this trip down musical memory lane, Betsy. It’s interesting how you changed from music to news on your car radio. After a brief post-kids period when I drove in silence to clear my head to/from work, I too use it to keep up on news these days. For longer trips, there are great podcasts.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It is true, Laurie. Most of today’s music doesn’t appeal to me. I know there are great podcasts, but I confess, I don’t even know how to tune in (I’m sure it isn’t difficult; just one more thing I don’t want to get hooked on – though Pod Save America really sounds interesting). And to be frank, the only long trip I drive these days is the occasional back and forth to Martha’s Vineyard. I just don’t drive that much.

  3. Marian says:

    I especially loved the reference to the British invasion and Motown, Betsy. You have captured in great detail the radios and music of our generation. We are close in age, so have the music in common.

  4. As always Betsy your recall and photos are great!
    And I too love Bose radios. we have them in almost every room and when needed I’ve sent some back to be repaired and had them speedily returned.

    We leave them on all day. and when we go out we leave them on for the cat!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Bose are the best, Dana. We have just a Bose clock (no music) in our Vineyard kitchen (now I wish we’d sprung for the whole thing and I could put it out in the sunroom and get something else for the kitchen; it also looks great). You have one lucky cat!

  5. Yes the cat has the best life, but he doesn’t get out much!

  6. Suzy says:

    Your paragraphs about the music of our teenage years resonated with me too, since I am only a year older than you. I notice that the radio dial in your featured image has FM as well as AM, which explains why you thought my featured image looked more like the clock-radio that you had.

    I know that RFK was shot in the early hours of June 5th (not 6th), because I had graduated from HS on June 4th, and it was at our all-night party that we heard the news around 3:30 am. But apparently he lingered for another day, so that’s probably why you thought it was June 6th.

    You and I are similar in so many ways, and yet polar opposites on our current radio tastes. I can’t stand to listen to people talking on the radio, and you don’t like to listen to music. So I guess we can’t go on any car trips together!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I just double-checked. RFK was shot early on June 5 (Sirhan Sirhan chose that date as it was the first anniversary of Israel’s 6 Day War), but lingered and was pronounced dead early on June 6, which is why that was the news story that woke me up that morning.

      Yes, I noticed that FM dial on my Featured photo, (not accurate) so your Featured photo looked much more familiar, but this was the best I could come up with. Kudos to you for getting the better shot!

      I don’t mind listening to music when I drive. I’m frequently listening to my chorus practice CD. Unfortunately, we aren’t currently practicing. I just prefer using the time to catch up on the news. When I’m in Dan’s car (not often – we usually drive my car), I really like listening to his preferences, but then, I’m not driving! So I think we might be compatible after all!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Your musical odyssey certainly paralleled mine, from the Top 40 era. Your comment about RFK, “they got Bobby too”, hit home. After JFK and MLK, a spate of assassinations that rocked our world, RFK just seemed numbing. Remember that old Dion song, “Abraham, Martin and John”? Bobby shows up at the end. I also related to your comment on the musical performers on SNL–I have to make myself watch them to have any awareness at all of popular music, but it’s hard.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I do remember the Dion song, Khati. It seemed like a fitting tribute for the era. We will start to watch the SNL musical guest, then quickly fast forward through it (we always watch the next day…we don’t stay up THAT late), if we don’t like the music, which is frequent.

  8. I wonder if boys danced in the front of the mirror as much as we did, or if they did it at all! My favorite among the dances you mentioned was the Mashed Potato. I also remember the Turkey — or was it the Chicken — and the Watusi. Waa-waa-watusi!!

    Heartache WAS such a popular theme! Rob Orbison was a genius but also the heartbreak king…some of his songs (and other artists as well) were downright tragic. Remember Leah? And Ode to Billie Joe?

    I’m with you, Betsy…I don’t know any of the musical guests on SNL. And I honestly hate to admit that I’m just not interested, but there you have it.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Funky Chicken, I believe. Ah, yes the Watusi! Ode to Billy Joe was classic…what did they throw off that bridge (I think I know, but…no one’s telling for certain). Another favorite of mine was Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.

      I read that Joan Baez will receive a Kennedy Center Honor in a few weeks. I was a very early fan; I have her second album and memorized all the songs (I really do love folk music). My two favorites, which were based on the same early ballad, were Silver Dagger and John Reilly. Both foretold heartbreak and warned the young maid to not marry. Big sigh…

      As for SNL, the stuff that passes for music these days is definitely for a different sensibility, Barb.

    • Not only are the musical guests on SNL unrecognizable, and the music not my cup of tea, but the skits are sophomoric, don’t you agree? Miss the old SNL!

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        I think we are not the target demographic, Dana. The skits were always hit or miss, mostly sophomoric. We just have fond memories of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” because we grew up with them. The show has been on the air for 46 years!

  9. Wow, Betsy. You really wove a rich tapestry of music listening into this post! I was substantially older through all these memories, but so much hit home. Bobby Kennedy also followed in apocalyptic succession after MLK and, for me, in the Bay Area, Black Panther Bobby Hutton. In order to dance in front of the mirror you had to have one in your bedroom, and I didn’t! Not sure how many boys would have, although I did spend plenty of time in the bathroom working on my hair and checking for um… blemishes.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      1968 was a terrible year during which our heroes were murdered, Charles, but I happened to only remember waking up to the news of Bobby Kennedy’s death.

      I think a mirror in one’s bedroom was a necessary piece of equipment for a teenage girl, but I understand not for a boy (my older brother didn’t have one). The bathroom was definitely the place for hair and skin observations for me too! But I danced there too, even with no radio. I sang my own music (my glasses even went flying off my face once as I twirled around). The music and dance were just in my soul (no Detroit pun intended).

  10. Your story really took me along for the ride. Music “on the air” as they used to say. Sweet memories.

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