Every week, my second-grade teacher at Granville Elementary School in Ohio led our class down the narrow, stone stairway to the basement of our ancient schoolhouse to experience magic. The basement was Richie’s domain — Mr. Richards, that is, the jovial old janitor whose grandfatherly nature made him a favorite to us kids. Amidst the clutter of mop buckets and brooms sat the most high-tech audiovisual device in the entire school: a radio. (Hey, it was 1945!)
Playing over the radio each week was a children’s radio drama called “Let’s Pretend.” Unlike the boring news my father listened to, or the endless Cleveland Indian’s games that absorbed by brother, “Let’s Pretend” captivated me and stimulated my imagination. This was my first experience with public radio, and I was hooked.
In the sixth grade, my teacher took our class to Ohio State University for a day-long field trip. We toured a historical museum and the School for the Blind, but the spot that stood out for me was a visit to the WOSU public radio studio. The staff members showed us the production equipment and the broadcast booths. A very funny man who made unbelievable sounds with no special equipment treated us to a demonstration of radio sound effects. His name was Jonathan Winters. Later, we marveled as three actors played a dozen roles in an on-air production of “Let’s Pretend.” What a thrill to go to the source of the broadcasts that had so enthralled me as a second grader.
Years passed, and I was spending a summer painting houses to pay my way through college. I carried my portable radio with me as I worked, tuned to WOSU public radio. The constant stream of classical music kept me focused on my work and entertained at the same time. Live coverage of breaking civil rights news stories would often interrupt the music. I recall vividly — while painting the second story of Professor Huckabee’s house — listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. There I was, a strapping young man, sitting on a porch roof cutting in the window trim, tears welling in my eyes, as I wondered how our society had come to such a place. That summer was the beginning of my social and political awakening and the formation of my core values.
From that point on, no matter where I have lived, I’ve sought out public radio stations that feed my hunger for news, commentary and music. The call letters of these radio stations trace the trajectory of my life, from WOSU in Columbus; to KQED in San Francisco; to WDET in Detroit; and currently WGCU in Southwest Florida (with periodic interludes with WUNC in Chapel Hill and WNYC in New York City).
Thanks, NPR. The ride wouldn’t be nearly as enriching or as fun without you.
David Pendergast, of Naples, is a long-time listener and member of WGCU Public Media.