Radio Days, Radio Nights
Spiro Athanas graduated from McKinley in 1960, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. Spiro has written numerous articles for this web site. Spiro now lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

“Hey Mom-io, ho Dad-io, this is Jimmy Bishop on your rad-io. And I’m back with my stacks of wax and grooves, sayin’ oo pop a doo and how do you do, ee tiddely ock (thump, thump) let’s ROCK! That’s the way radio station KATZ disc jockey Jimmy Bishop began each of his broadcasts. Obviously, it is imprinted on my brain as one of my favorite radio memories. In fact, one of my earliest memories is sitting on the kitchen floor of the house I lived in on Menard just north of Lami in 1945 when I was three, listening to the Andrews Sisters sing their version of Mairzy Doats (Mares Eat Oats) on the radio.

The first baseball game I remember hearing on the radio (KMOX, of course) was the Cardinals against the Dodgers in 1948 or 49 – announced by Harry Caray and his color man Gabby Street. I remember it because I was sitting in the alley with my friend Butch Blair leaning against the backyard fence of his house. Butch’s father, who was a school administrator, had the game on his car radio while he tinkered with the engine. The car was an immaculate, chartreuse 1938 Buick. The Blair family was the only black family in our neighborhood. Butch was an avid Dodger fan, but he was redeemed by also appreciating Stan Musial, who was having the best years of his career.

We had a console radio (I think it was a Philco) and a wind-up console Victrola in our living room after we moved to 2641 Russell (a block and a half west of McKinley) in 1945. I remember sitting around that radio in the late ‘40s with members of my family laughing at the antics of “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, “Fibber McGee and Molly,” and “Abbott and Costello.” But my most vivid memories are of radio mysteries and dramas such as “Suspense”, “The Inner Sanctum”, and “The Creaking Door.” Sometimes the tension and suspense were so great that my sisters and I would have to leave the room before the climax of the action. I can never remember being so agitated or frightened by a TV show or even a movie. Such is the power of radio. I also recall that big band music was giving way to rhythm and blues as the background music of my life in the late forties. Classic tunes such as the Ink Spots “If I Didn’t Care” and the Mills Brothers “You Always Hurt The One You Love” come to mind.

Our family purchased a television set in the early ‘50s, but radio was still a big part of my life. I went home for a hot lunch prepared by mother every single day of my school years from K through 12. The radio was always on, tuned to KMOX, and my mother and I would listen to “Rex Davis with the News”, “Ma Perkins”, “Young Doctor Malone”, and “Perry Mason” during that noon hour. I recall being so ill for several days one winter that I had to stay home from school. I remember listening to the early morning “soap operas” that I had never heard before such as “Portia Faces Life” and “Our Gal Sunday.” The latter posed the famous question “Can this girl from the little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?” It was my mother’s favorite “soap”, perhaps because, as an immigrant, she could identify with the plight of the heroine.

But the biggest impact radio had on my life began in 1955. That was the year when Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” hit the radio airwaves. It may not have been the first rock and roll song, but it was the song that put rock and roll on the worldwide map. And popular music would never be the same. That was also the year my friends and I discovered the black radio stations KXLW and KATZ. KATZ was my personal favorite. It was the home of the hip disc jockeys Spider Burks, Dave Dixon, and, later, Jimmy Bishop and Jerome Dixon (Dave’s brother). So many of my best high school memories revolve around nights listening to rock and roll songs played on KATZ that I couldn’t possibly even begin to recount them all. Be that as it may, here are a couple of examples.

My brother Pete joined the army as a six-month wonder in 1958. I “borrowed” his car (a beautiful black Dodge convertible with a red pin stripe) from our garage when I was 15 and didn’t know how to drive. I picked up four of my buddies and we went joy riding all day and half the night through the streets of South St. Louis. The only thing I remember about that ride, besides my buddies being scared witless by my erratic driving, is that the Coasters “Yakety Yak” (which had just been released) was played about every 15 minutes on the car radio throughout the day and night. I scratched my brother’s car door trying to put that beauty back in the garage, but that’s another story.

I started dating JoAnn Weaver (who later became my wife) in 1958, and “our song” was Fats Domino’s “Whole Lot of Loving.” We went to a drive-in theater one night and the movie was so boring, we decided to turn on the car radio. “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes, perhaps the greatest doo wop song ever recorded, was playing on KATZ. JoAnn said she wanted a soda, so I went to the concession stand. It took at least five minutes to get the soda, but when I returned “Get a Job” was still playing on the radio. “How could that be?” I asked since songs in those days were only about a minute and a half long. JoAnn explained that DJ Spider Burks had “racked it back and played it again and again and again – by popular demand.” Those were the days.

I think it was Dave Dixon who ended his radio show each night at midnight by quoting the last stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Day is Done.” “And the night shall be filled with music/And the cares that infest the day/Shall fold their tents like the Arabs/And as silently steal away.” And then he’d say, “May I say good night to my darling mother. And good night to you, to you ba-by, and especially – you.”

-- Spiro Athanas
orips@aol.com