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My Favorite 1980s Chicago Radio Memories

I bought a 1960s transistor radio online a month ago, and I've been listening to the eclectic shows of the local college radio station ever since. The Old-Timey Country Hour and the experimental Portuguese jazz hour are my favorites.

Dialing in strange, new exotic music is a source of endless happiness for me. Not that I would ever purchase Portuguese jazz or that I even particularly like old-time country music.

It's the act of discovering something that I don't know, hearing a message from places I will never go, that takes me right back to my childhood.

I discovered rap music hiding under the covers with a pocket transistor pressed against my ear. I learned about sex and romance listening to the Quiet Storm after midnight. I developed an obsession with "That's All" by Genesis that got so bad that my school banned me from carrying a radio into the building, even if it was turned off.

I am not so old that I had to listen to a transistor radio; I've just always loved the way they look and sound. My first hobby was buying broken hand-held transistor radios and taking them apart. I don't know what I was looking for; I never tried putting them back together.

I grew up on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin and got all of the Chicago stations. The folks never let me watch much TV growing up - my addictive personality was clear then - so the radio was always on.

Here, then, are my favorite 1980's Chicago radio memories*:

1. RPM.

The late-night heavy metal show hosted by Scott Loftus is going to feature heavily on this list, so I'll just include it alone. RPM, or Real Precious Metal, was the radio station of my angry youth. Broadcasting on 103.1 WVVX from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., the show was the ultimate fan podcast long before such a thing existed.

As soon as Bill Murray's soliloquy from Stripes kicked in, the metal was raining down upon us. Loftus and his school-bus-driving sidekick, played, defended, promoted, and lived metal with every single breath. My buddies and I traded homemade RPM tapes to prove how metal we were. Amazingly, the RPM scored live interviews with the top names in metal. That's where this list really starts.

2. Ozzy Puking.

Before he was a cell phone pitchman and reality TV star, Ozzy was the prince of fucking darkness. And legendarily wasted all the time. One night, he inanely mumbled his way through about 10 minutes of an interview when, live on air, he threw up in a studio garbage can. Loftus and his sidekick cheered wildly that Ozzy ruled while he was throwing up. I dare you to find a moment as kick ass as that on any rock station today.

3. Tom Araya's Fucking Interview.

During a drunken call-in interview, the Slayer front man would not stop using the f-word. Loftus repeatedly asked him to stop because the show was live and he would get his license yanked. Araya wouldn't stop and finally Loftus hung up on him. The interview, and the blowback from it, caused RPM to boycott Slayer for years. My friends and I argued the Venom vs. Slayer debate constantly, and this interview weighed heavily in the anti-Slayer crowd (I was pro-Slayer). I called RPM twice a week to request Reign in Blood.

4. Thirsty Whale.

I felt trapped as a kid; by economics, my weird obsessions, and low-self esteem. But there was a place so magical, so distant, so fucking cool that if I could only get there, just once, I would be free. That place was the Thirsty Whale. Thirst Whale commercials for their Friday night shows ran constantly on RPM. Those spots were everything I wanted to be: rocking, far away from home, and surrounded by chicks. Once, my uncle went to a show (Enuff Z Nuff) at the Whale and he let me keep the ticket.

5. Jesse Jackass.

I grew up next door to redneck bikers. They introduced me to metal music and lower-class racism. They were huge Steve and Garry fans; the show was always on in their garage. We hung out there, messing with our bikes and listening to the radio. One day, Steve and Garry ran a parody song of Jesse Jackson called "Jesse Jackass." The rednecks loved it and sang it all afternoon. I didn't know who he was or why it was funny, but it triggered some taboo reptilian part of my brain that told me I wasn't so comfortable with the bikers anymore.

6. Start Me Up.

Bear with me. I know I was only eight, but I remember the Loop DJ talking about the Rolling Stones' new record and hyping the debut of a new song. I remember standing in the kitchen, washing dishes, when "Start Me Up" kicked in. I also recall not being that impressed by the song. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I realized that hearing the debut of "Start Me Up" was really cool.

7. Meeting the 1984 Cubs.

I was an obsessive Cubs fan before I learned better (it would only take about three months and a three-game stand in San Diego). The local radio station held an on-site promotion at a local tire dealership with "members" of your Chicago Cubs. I begged, pleaded and bargained with my mother to take me; she agreed. When we got to the place, it was utterly mobbed. The featured Cubs players turned out to be Jay Johnstone and Thad Bosley, along with ballgirl Marla Collins. I won some sort of contest, neither my brother nor I can remember what it was, but my prize was autographed pictures of the two players. I also got to say my name live on the radio. My brother remembers the story a little differently; he recalls that I won a contest but I was really pissed off that the prize was two Goodyear mugs. Could be, but the point is I got to meet to Chicago Cubs and make my first media appearance.

9. Crotch Rocket.

The Waukegan radio station, WXLC, used to hold live, on-site promotional events. Once, during a live event at a local bar, the DJ, Scott something-or-other, was obviously really drunk. He made blatant sexually suggestive remarks that I didn't understand to a woman in the audience. My mother turned beet-red and made me turn the station. I don't remember what he said but I do recall the station announcing the next day that he had been fired.

9. Momma.

A tiny radio station in Zion had a weekend call-in program for yard sales. The show, hosted by Walt Stare, let people holding a garage sale to call in and describe their sale: location, hours, items. My mother called in and I listened to her on a pocket transistor radio. Hearing my mother's voice coming out of the radio was a revelation akin to hearing the voice of God. The yard sale was a bust anyways.

* I, in no way, attest to the accuracy of these memories. They're mine, they exist in my head a certain way and factual truth be damned.


Comments welcome.


Other Lists By Drew Adamek:
* Today's Syllabus
* Shit My Dad Says
* Work Weirdos
* Things I Miss About Chicago
* 20 Albums I Wish I Had Never Bought
* Their Chicago
* Cities I've Slept In

* Fan Note: Me & Metallica


Posted on March 3, 2010

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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