Radio is a dangerous topic.
No, I'm not talking about Rush, Howard or any of those doctors who cure sex, drug, relationship or car problems in the 3 1/2 minutes between commercials.
Radio is a dangerous topic because speaking or writing about it tends to fix a person in time. For example, if I were to admit that I have securely deposited in my memory bank both the sound and sight of the Beatles--who filled the AM airways as well as the black and white television screen in the corner of my best friend Deni's living room, where she and I sat transfixed throughout the entire Ed Sullivan show--you would probably guess that I was not in diapers at the time.
So I will distance myself from this subject. I will let Barbara Tone, who wrote this week's Centerpiece profile on rock 'n' roll disc jockey and Westlake resident Steve Downes, date herself.
"My interest in rock 'n' roll began when I was 8 or 9 years old, with the early days of Elvis," she said. "My brother is nearly 5 years older than I, so I got an early start. He and my parents had terrible fights over his 'Elvis hair,' which now seems tame--especially compared to the row of orange spikes on an otherwise shaved head that I saw yesterday."
In those days, Tone said, they would put the radio on the kitchen counter, trying to get reception for the AM stations in their upstate New York area. That was when FM broadcast only classical music.
"I remember when I was about 9 years old asking my brother what the difference was between AM and FM," Tone said. "Just think of AM as 'awful music' and FM as 'fine music' was his answer."
That didn't last long. Within a few years the FM band had developed a whole new profile.
"In the late '60s, when I moved to L.A., progressive FM was just starting to take off," said Tone. "Station owners found that people were actually listening to these guys who came in sounding stoned, but probably were not, and just played what they felt like playing from their own collection or what was on the station wall."
Things have changed. Now the Top-40 format, which we fled AM to escape, has claimed FM. And AM is talk, talk, talk.
"All the L.A. stations seem to have gone to niche programming--all '70s, all classics, all metal, all Carpenters," said Tone. "I love the old stuff, but I also like to keep up with the new, so that when my daughter is a teen-ager, I won't think Hootie and the Blowfish is some new aquatic animation from Disney."
It's too late Barbara, we already know you're an old fogy.