4:22am on Friday morning. Five days of radio in a row are almost over.
Yesterday, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich took fairly critical calls about 1. why the alleged murderer of Val and Lana Taneff was on the streets with such a long rap sheet. and 2. why when you call 911 the dispatcher doesn't know exactly where Centennial Park is. It was not an easy show for the Sheriff. He was a good friend of Val Taneff, the opinionated radio host who got strangled to death in her own home. Sheriff gave the eulogy at the funeral.
"It was a bit insensitive for those callers to come at the Sheriff like that. Val was his friend. He talked a the funeral," Alexis said last night on our way back from the Strack and Van Til's grocery store.
"He's a big boy, the Sheriff. It's part of the job."
Alexis and I ate some dinner at Bridges in Griffith before heading to the massive grocery store at the corner of Cline and 45th. That's Highland, not Griffith, in case you were interested.
At this hour, one of the things you can do is listen to the constant hum of the Borman Expressway, 80/94, a couple of blocks away. When you think about it, for almost all of my life except for forays to California and Chicago, I've lived a couple of blocks from the Borman Expressway. It makes for easy on/off when you're going somewhere like a high school basketball game in Chesterton or to Chicago for work or to Florida to show your kids Disney World.
And it also makes, this constant hum of trucks and cars, for a peaceful constant in the middle of the night when the three or four of you are still sleeping. The truth of the matter is that two of the more peaceful things in the middle of the night that I can think of are
1. the lulling sound of the Borman Expressway
2. AM radio
You put the two together and you get a 14-year-old kid lying in bed with the window open listening to the lulling sound of the Borman Expressway and the English-language rhythm of AM radio out of Chicago. That's how I went to sleep not only 40 years ago today, just a couple blocks from where I now write this sitting on a bed in the middle of the night, but 45 years ago... and 20 years ago... and five years ago. For almost all of my life, except for those years in Chicago and California, I've gone to bed with radio and the Borman.
It's something to hold on to, like God and love and old Joseph Conrad stories. I can picture myself four blocks West lying in bed absorbing the thrust of ten semis hitting the Calumet Avenue exit at the same time... while Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks just scored another goal on AM 720. The juxtaposition of cross-country transportation and radio wave celebration is something that makes me smile about my 14-year-old self.
That's how radio lifers are born, lying in bed listening to the radio. Ten years ago or so, I went to this big radio conference in Philadelphia, and they gave a Marconi award to some guy from Lincoln, Nebraska. He walked up to the podium to accept his trophy and give his speech.
"What can I say. I'm a radio lifer," he said. "Like you, I do it because I love radio and I never expected something like this. Thank you very much." And he walked off the stage.
That pretty much sums up radio. Radio lifers do it because we love radio. And that starts when you're lying in bed listening to Black Hawks games on WGN or to the latest hits on WCFL AM 1000 or WLS AM 890. Those blowtorches have changed. WCFL is the call letters for a religious station out of Kankakee, Illinois. WLS is still a 50,000 watt blowtorch that you can hear in the middle of the night in northern Alabama when you're driving down for Spring break with the kids. It's not the latest pop hits. It's conservative talk radio, angry most of the time. WGN is still pretty much the same. Old fogie talk mixed in with Cubs games.
Wait. Newsflash. The Cubs, after like 60 years on WGN, are moving down the dial to AM 670 the Score. That shakes a lot of our worlds. You could count on a few things in the Chicago area - snow in November, hot hot summers, corruption, murder, traffic on the Dan Ryan.... and the Cubs all summer on WGN AM 720. Jack Brickhouse, Ron Santo, Harry Caray, Lou Boudreau, all coming from that familiar spot on the dial. Not anymore. Our worlds are shaken... almost as much as if the sound of the Borman two blocks away just stopped. One of the two tracks of sound of my youth and my increasing old age would have disappeared. One step closer to silence.
..... These are the kinds of things you think of when you wake up an hour early for work in radio. You think of yourself lying in bed 40 years ago, four blocks away, listening to the radio. I had a room with a window that faced to the north, right towards the Borman. I could hear motorcycles without mufflers. There must have been less laws back then, more muffler-less motorcycles. There were louder trucks, too, that would stand above the general low hum of constant traffic. Those have mostly disappeared also.
Maybe it's because the Borman now has sound barrier walls up and down its sides that the sound is more constant than when I would take it in late at night as a kid. With no walls, the peculiar pitch of a specific badly-tuned engine could reach your window. And you could hear that one engine, window open or not.
Now, with concrete walls up and down the Borman, the sound still reaches you. But it's mixed together with all of the other badly-tuned engines so it comes to you even, the only thing breaking the constant rhythm being the horn of a train a couple of miles away.
And the radio? Do I listen to the radio at night? Sometimes I listen to Levin spout his hate on WLS before going to bed. Or I listen to our own Rick Kubic tell stories on WJOB. Or I listen to basketball games or even music on WXRT.
But mostly these days, I listen to old Jean Shepherd tapes before I go to bed. Last night, Jean, out of 1963 in New York, told about a snake with really big teeth in Philadelphia who turned and killed himself by biting his own body. That didn't make for such a great mental visual to carry to bed. Still, it all makes for ironic juxtaposition. In 1976 - 40 years ago when I was 14 - I would have laid in bed listening to Chicago radio from 1976. But here I am 40 years later, lying in bed a few blocks away listening to New York radio from 1963.
It doesn't make a lot of sense, at least until you remember that the second track of this life piece is the low and constant hum of trucks and cars traveling across the country on the Borman. That's still there. None of that is taped.