Growing up just outside of New York City, one of the largest media markets in the world, I had no shortage of radio stations and personalities to listen to. My maturation was marked by the size and complexity of my radios, from a tiny transistor bought for me by my grandmother at Woolworths when I was in first or second grade, to the large boom-boxes that saw me through high school into college.
I needed a present. I wanted it to be special. I was as poor as the usual working-class undergraduate.
We all started out with AM Top-40 rock. There was “Seventy-seven, WABCeeeeee!” with Cousin Brucie and Dan Ingram. Bruce Morrow was like everyone’s second best friend, but with a huge record collection, while Ingram was known for his ability to patter right through the intro of a song, finishing his thought or joke JUST as the singing started. Getting ready for school in the morning was lightened up by WNEW-AM’s Gene Klavin and his many funny characters such as Trevor Traffic, who often seemed to be on the verge of crashing his helicopter, Mr. Nat the Coordinator of Interrelations who did nothing, Dr. Sy Kology the shrink, weatherman Isadore Isobar, Italian crooner Emilio Percolator, and country singer Johnny Charge. Each character’s entry and exit was punctuated by a slamming door sound effect. My Mom and I would spend each morning laughing uncontrollably.
As I went through high school, there was the overnight presence of The Nightbird, Alison Steele, on prog-rocker WNEW-FM. “The flutter of wings, the shadow across the moon, the sounds of the night, as the Nightbird spreads her wings and soars, above the earth, into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come, fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird, at WNEW-FM, until dawn.”
Alison’s soft, slightly husky whispered voice was the basis of many a Tri-State area young man’s dreams back in the Seventies. She kept a lot of us up until dawn on summer nights!
In college, there was Dick Summer. It is entirely possible that you have heard his voice recently, as he is still active doing commercials, as well as podcasting. His voice and his on-air manner made you comfortable, like you were talking with an old friend who knew you well but liked you anyway. Besides playing records, he did comic bits and read selections of his own poetry. And he did me a favor once. Looking back, I am amazed that I had the nerve to ask him for the favor, but as I said, he had a way of making you fell at ease.
Maria and I were still a couple then, snatching rare moments together as we hid our relationship from her parents. One of the things we had in common was listening to Dick Summer, together or apart. In his poetry we often heard echos of our feelings for each other, and the terrible situation that we found ourselves in. Sometimes I’d record his show on my cassette recorder, to listen to the poems again, to memorize them for the next time she and I could meet.
Her birthday was in August. This had to have been in the summer of 1976. I needed a present. I wanted it to be special. I was as poor as the usual working-class undergraduate. So, I sent a blank tape cassette to Dick Summer, asking him to please read some of his poems as a gift for my girlfriend. It was a simpler era; things like intellectual property were not really popular concerns, not to mention the idea of me freeloading on his professional time and talents. It didn’t take long. Soon the cassette came back. No note telling me to get lost, to buy the damned book, etc. Just the cassette.
Dick had filled it with personal readings of his poems, and returned it to me with best wishes for Maria’s birthday and for our future.
Dick Summer was, and remains as far as I can tell, one hell of a nice person.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.