July 30, 2013

Points East: Tuning into our favorite stations

By Ike Adams

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Mom had an old Stromberg  Carlson radio sitting on top of the Maytag refrigerator in our kitchen  when I was a little boy.  She had a piece of copper wire run through the kitchen window out to her steel clothes line to use for what she called an “aerial” to pick up faraway stations.  We later found out that it was really called an antenna.

We could get several local daytime stations  without hooking the aerial up and even a few of the big city AM stations at night when they turned their broadcast power up.  WCKY from Cincinnati, WSM from Nashville, WNOX from Knoxville, WJJD from Chicago and maybe a dozen others whose call letters I don’t remember and who mostly didn’t play anything worth listening to.

But with the aerial plugged in, we could sometimes pick up radio stations in Canada that played  country music on clear nights.  The Canadians liked to record and replay last week’s Grand Ole Opry and it got us boys standing in kitchen chairs and reaching for the top of the appliance again because we thought that Grandpa Jones and Roy Acuff and Cousin Jody and Minnie Pearl, and Patsy Cline, and Mama Maybelle Carter had collectively hung the moon.

It was always hit or miss with those stations out of Toronto, Montreal, Windsor and Quebec because they might have the power turned up one night and the next night you couldn’t get a thing.  One station even had an announcer who only spoke French so you couldn’t understand a word he was saying but all the records he played were USA top 40 country hits.

I’ve forgotten what the station was but it was out of Tennessee and two or three nights a week a preacher named Garner Ted  Armstrong came on with a 15 minute program called “The World Tomorrow.”  He predicted that time was going to end in the 70s and listeners needed to send him money so he could get the world ready for it. 

Garner Ted also sold books and offered a free subscription to The Plain Truth magazine which my Mom read like it was another version of the Bible.  The radio show wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t had to listen to it.  The only way it would come in loud and plain enough to hear and understand was if somebody stood in a chair and kept their hand on top of the radio.  Guess who got stuck with that duty. 

Then on another night of the week, there was a preacher, with a 15-minute faith healing show on the same station, who claimed he could cure anything if you’d just hold your hand on the radio and let him pray for you.  He always had testimonials from deaf people who started hearing, blind folks that started seeing again, crippled up people who started walking again and stuff like that.

There wasn’t much cancer going around back in the 1950s but every once in awhile he’d cure a case or two of cancer or maybe TB.   Anyway, I’d have to stand up there and hold my hand on top of the radio until the testimonials were all done and it came time to do some serious healing then Mom would let me get down so she could reach up and touch the radio and get cured.  She could reach it from the floor without having to stand in a chair and I was always glad to get down because there was hardly ever anything wrong with me except for a touch of tonsillitis every now and then. 

I’d have felt pretty stupid having that faith healer working on tonsillitis when he had all those deaf, blind, crippled-up and heart patients to deal with. Not to mention the occasional case of cancer and TB.