When I was a young boy growing up on Pear Street, I remember all the early hours where my sister and I would sit in the kitchen before school, as we ate our oatmeal and bacon. The dial was always turned to WKMK, the local radio station. That station was such a regular part of our routine that the announcers seemed like family. A person could find out about the day’s weather, the community events that were coming up, who had recently died, hear the latest information of local advertisers, and give a listen to all of that wonderful and exciting music from back then, when flower children and small town heroes ruled the airwaves.
The station, which always had an AM and FM component, if memory serves, went through a format change or two over the decades, since its broadcasting began sometime in the mid-1960’s; from sixties/seventies rock and pop, to classic country, to new country, to southern gospel/occasionally contemporary Christian, and now back again to the same music that it started with- they call it classic rock these days. But regardless of the variations, it has had an influence on me that I simply cannot overlook.
I remember hearing the mesmerizing chords of Bridge Over Troubled Water wafting out from Mrs. Shiver’s open window next door- just after a Maloy’s Grocery commercial had been on, on a gloriously breezy day when I was about four years old. I was playing outside- trying to catch a few grasshoppers to put in an old mason jar- but I immediately stopped what I was doing and just listened to the words and harmonies, and the instruments. I remember how moving it was to be out there on such a serenely beautiful day, hearing that song. I was hooked! Years later, when I was maybe seventeen, the family moved in with my grandmother for a few weeks in the Fall; around the corner on Jeffry Street. One afternoon during that time, in Granny’s bedroom, a certain song came on WKMK- a haunting song that is (oddly) little known to this day. In fact, I have only ever heard it by way of our radio station three or so times from back then- no one else has ever played it, to my knowledge. It was an acoustical guitar-driven ballad called Half Moon Silver. It was so beautiful and stirring and somber that I got a lump in my throat as I listened. Hearing that song on that day continued to shape my appreciation and aspirations for music, and created for me another strong and beloved memory- it was because of our local station that I ever heard it.
And after so much time has now passed, the station that still sits at the quiet end of Kelly Avenue (now known as WYBT, situated at 98.1 on the FM dial) continues to tell of the weather, the local news, and the events and special information that pertain to our little town. And it continues to foster my love for music, just like it did on that long ago day with my grasshopper jar. But it’s not only the music. It is also a comforting thing to hear all the familiar voices of the town folk interacting with the announcers on the Swap Shop every morning; the sounds of all their friendly banter drifting around the corners of the rooms, looking to find old tools, or used clothing, or kittens, or whatever else they might have or need. I guess for me, the local radio station is something that is always there, either obviously or somewhere in the background, influencing me and comforting me in ways that I am sometimes probably not even aware of. It’s kind of like the musical score for my life, and helps keep me connected to all of the people and sidewalks and hidden treasures of this place that I call home. Thanks WYBT for the memories, and thanks for your continuing presence in our community. You’re doing GREAT!