The golden age of radio as told by grizzled deejays, canny programmers and one passionate listener.
Over the past decade-plus, the advent of the iPod, podcasts and satellite radio has marginalized AM radio to the point that few bother with amplitude modulation unless they’re in their car and need some traffic and weather on “the 8s.” Unless listeners can choose exactly what it is they’re listening to, they simply won’t. Obviously, that wasn’t always the case; beginning in the early 1950s and climaxing sometime in the late ’80s, AM radio spread music and messages across the airwaves far more effectively than pre-cable network television. All these advancements and shifts within (and without) the medium beg the simple question, Was radio better then or now? At the very least, according to Fisher, in the beginning, pop radio was far more personal, colorful and affecting. A veteran Washington Post politics/culture columnist, Fisher presents a version of radio’s cultural development via a series of mini-biographies of AM heavyweights, like iconoclastic humorist and jazz lover Jean Shepard, maverick programmer Todd Storz, the effervescent Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and oh-so-macho mouthpiece Tom Leykis, among others. The FM side of the dial is touched on only briefly, most memorably in the informative discussion about the roots of National Public Radio. As this book is at heart a celebration, Fisher focuses primarily on the positive, only briefly recounting such black marks as the oft-reported Alan Freed payola scandal and Steve Dahl’s infamous 1977 “Disco Demolition Night” in Chicago. Fisher (After the Wall, 1995) elicits engaging, often hilarious stories from his interview subjects, particularly the tale of Cousin Brucie’s 1965 encounter with the Beatles. Some might question the author’s choice of featured personalities—a chapter about Dick Biondi, for example, would have been welcome—but this is a Fisher-eye view of radio, and that’s more than acceptable.
An authoritative, enthusiastic, eminently readable slice of pop-culture history honoring a medium that sadly seems close to extinction.