In addition to the job he did to support us, my father worked as a radio talk show host on the weekends. When he first started, the station was still all music, mostly jazz and standards. ((When it switched over to all talk all the time, we inherited stacks of albums, an incredible musical windfall.)
The first time we went out to the station was the first time I saw clearly how in-the-sticks we truly were. The station was far from our house, further and further from anything that could masquerade as a full-fledged town. At the end of the ride we turned off the main road to drive up and up and up a long, poorly-paved lane. At the top was a house with a cow picketed out front. A cow. We turned right at the cow and the station was in the house at the end, a cute little house with a gigantic antenna in the yard.
I don’t know if anyone questioned whether my father would make the switch from music to talk. No one should have. There’s no question but that talk suited him far better than music. And he took to talk immediately. I don’t remember any hiccups when the show first started. He could talk about most anything. The show didn’t have a theme, so he could be pretty freewheeling. As he developed an audience, a theme maybe evolved, but even as politics and fairness became popular topics, he would still go off where he wanted to go.
It was funny to me that he had ‘listeners,’ that he had a following. He was my dad, after all, not a ‘personality.’ But yet, he was a personality. He had a whole crew of regular callers. There were the argumentative ones who liked to get the conversation going even if they agreed with my father about whatever was on the table. There were the slightly (and not really at all slightly) needy ones who seemed to look for validation and friendship through their calls. There were the knowledgeable ones who liked trading ideas. And there were the gruff and lonely ones who just liked having someone listen as they talked.
But whoever his listeners were, the point was that he had listeners, that people were tuning into this tiny upstate radio station specifically because they wanted to hear my father talk, wanted to hear what he had to say. That fascinated me. Not that I didn’t think my father was someone to be listened to, but it was weird to see him with this bigger-than-our-family-and-friends popularity.
One of the things I liked best about his talk job was the way people thought they knew him. Many of his listeners thought he was a teacher, one woman was certain he was a retired professor. I would guess that he liked that, too. It came from the fact that he was so well read, the fact that he could talk so knowledgeably and clearly (oh dear, dare I say he was articulate — shudder — but he was). I liked knowing that people heard in my father’s voice the man he liked to think he was. He was very smart and knew about a LOT of things. He wasn’t a teacher or retired professor, however. He worked various jobs for a local import company — warehouse foreman, purchasing manager. He never graduated from high school. (I don’t know if he would ever have aspired to being a teacher. I think he had other dreams. But I like that he had some kind of ‘teacher aura’ that came through for his listeners. It’s a way that I can feel myself a little more connected to him.)
Our family got pulled into the show, too. I don’t remember when it started — maybe with a performance of Christmas carols or something — but over time there was a tradition of my sister and me playing flute duets on air (sometimes accompanied by my mom at the piano). My father talked about his family a lot: about my brother’s track wins, about the poetry contest I won, about my sister’s recitals. We were on his show either in person or through his words a lot. It was a kind of invisible fame: somewhere (out there in radio land) there were people hearing us, knowing about us.
It started out as just a casual thing he was doing on the side, but the radio show became my father’s real job in a way, the job of his heart. It was the place he could be most himself, give his ideas legs, feel the respect he knew he deserved.
(this one’s late for last Monday … I’m noticing a bad pattern here)
is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.