Family night at the radio station

I have a vivid memory of me and my brother walking our dog in circles, outside the radio station where my dad used to work. In my memory, dusk was falling and the hot summer day turned to a cool summer night. We were probably seven and nine years old.

There was a flower garden in the driveway of the radio station, set off by a circular stone wall. This was the wall we walked around again and again, pretending we were at a dog show.

We’d never seen a dog show, not that I can remember. We only had two TV stations at home. Yet somehow we knew dog shows existed, so we pretended our dog was in one. We had to walk her around and around in circles to show her off to the judges.

Our dog naturally won first prize. This, despite the fact that she performed no tricks, could barely walk on a leash (since we usually let her run wild), and had no pedigree. She was a mutt we’d adopted from the SPCA, but she was beautiful in our eyes. How could she not win first prize in our dog show at dusk, each and every time? Because we had this dog show more than once.

Dad worked second shift at the radio station in Ellsworth, and on weekends he would bring the whole family in. Looking back on this, it seems strange to me now, that we all piled into the car to go with Dad to work on the weekends, even the dog. All the same, I can fully appreciate why. Having a work-life balance is not something people talked about in the seventies. But Dad was ahead of his time, because he knew family was more important than work, so he found a way to spend time with us even while working nights and weekends.

I can see why it was appealing to Mom too, not to spend a Saturday night at home alone with us kids. This was co-parenting, seventies-style. And as far as I can remember, we all loved family night at the radio station.

The radio station was in an old Victorian house. The on-air studio was on the first floor, as was Studio B, where the non-live segments were recorded. My brother and I spent all our time in Studio B, when we weren’t out walking the dog. We learned to use the microphones and cue up ads, and we recorded our own talk shows that were never heard on the radio. I wish I had recordings of those brilliant shows, because even though I can’t remember a single thing we said, I remember how professional our voices sounded amplified by those studio mics.

The first floor also featured a kitchen and a formal dining room, leftover from when the radio station was a house. I have no idea what they did with the kitchen or formal dining room during office hours, but on the weekends we had family dinners there. Sometimes we’d order takeout, and other times Mom would cook dinner in the functional, furnished kitchen. We’d eat around the table, and I still remember how glossy it was, so unlike our table at home which was weathered and comfortable.

Upstairs there were offices and a magic typewriter in the hallway. We called it the magic typewriter, because it typed on its own without anyone touching the keys. That’s how Dad got the breaking news and weather reports to read on the air. I looked it up recently and found out it was called a teleprinter, a predecessor to the fax machine. But I almost wish I didn’t know the grown-up word, because ‘magic typewriter' is better.

The upstairs offices were empty all weekend, so they were a perfect place to fall asleep. After our imaginary dog show, after recording in Studio B, and after marveling at the magic typewriter, we’d settle down for the night. The radio station played the soft rock hits of the day, and you could hear the on-air broadcast in every corner of the radio station. So we fell asleep to the lullabies of the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John. Mom would gently shake us awake when Dad’s shift was over at midnight, and we’d drive home on empty country roads.

There were no streetlights once we left the city, just our dim headlights casting their glow on the winding road. Dark trees flanked us to the left and right, and stars shone overhead. Sometimes we smelled a skunk in the dark. Years later, the smell of skunk at night would make me nostalgic for those peaceful drives home from the radio station. I can’t fully explain how such an awful smell makes me think comforting thoughts.

“There’s nobody awake but us and the people in China,” Dad would say as the rest of us teetered on the edge of sleep. “China, you know, is on the other side of the world,” he would explain, keeping the dialogue going to keep himself awake. “It’s daytime there.”

Uphill and downhill he’d drive, thinking of distant lands as he steered us home.


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