March 4, 2012

Car-radio memories recollected


---- — When I mention listening to a car radio, what kinds of mental images do you conjure up? Don your thinking cap, and take a radio ride down memory lane.

When I was 5, my dad owned a V-12 Lincoln-Zephyr. Leaving water in the radiator in winter led to a cracked block, and the car sat by our driveway. I must ask my older brother Jim if it had a radio. I honestly can't picture one.

There was a 1928 Packard in which we took many trips to New York City visiting the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Empire State Building, Radio City, Hayden Planetarium and my father's missions in Harlem and China Town. With our family and all the friends we could pack into that big car, there was no need to use a radio for entertainment. We provided our own. Did it have a radio? Not a clue.

Later, we had a '39 Chevy sedan. Again, listening to the radio while traveling was never a priority, so whether or not that car had one shall also remain a mystery.

When I was 13, my dad bought his first ever new car — a 1950 Ford, black in color. Yes, it had a radio, and I turned it on whenever I hopped into the passenger's seat. We listened to WMSA 1340 in Massena, and I loved the hometown feeling it gave me. The announcers seemed like family friends, and the songs they played introduced me to the popular hits of the day. I quickly learned the words to Nat "King" Cole's "Mona Lisa," "Tennessee Waltz" and all the rest. My mom and dad only liked religious music, so I was forced to keep the volume down low while we were driving.

In the early '50s when I attended the old Moira High School, my dad bought a Buick Century, and I thought that was the neatest thing on wheels. It had a fabulous radio, and I listened often. It was my job to ring the church bell at the Moira church every Sunday morning. While my father preached fire and brimstone, I would be outside in that Buick with the radio blaring gospel quartets such as the Statesmen singing great old spirituals. At other times after I got my license, I would ride around with my friends and listen to WICY in Malone.

In college at Stony Brook on Long Island, WNEW was my favorite, and I got to meet Mr. Finch of the famous Klavan and Finch morning team on that station. He gave me good advice about how to break into radio by starting at a small radio station and working my way to the top. I later started small here in Plattsburgh and remained small for almost 36 years.

I remember Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins playing The Chordettes's "Mister Sandman" 55 times in a row on WNEW. He was fired and came back 10 years later. Guess what song he played first upon his return? William B. Williams was another of my favorites. He was a big Frank Sinatra fan and played Frank's records daily. I listened to all of them on the radio in my 1946 Ford sedan and then in my 1950 Buick Riviera Coupe while I commuted from East Northport to the school outside Oyster Bay.

I turn the radio on in my present vehicles each time I head down the road. Public Radio on FM has been my favorite for about 15 years.

Clever people hooked up early radios in their cars soon after radios and cars became popular, but it wasn't till the early '30s that you could order one for your new vehicle — not from the car company, but separately. The company was called Motorola. It was an expensive add-on in those early days.

Nowadays, you can jump into your vehicle and simply tell your audio system what kind of music or which specific song or station your heart desires. To quote an old phrase, "We've come a long ways, baby."

Have a great day listening to your car radio and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at