Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rock and Roll Radio, Airplanes and Quail Droppings!

It was the summer of ’69! I had just earned my private pilot’s license and was eager to take my buddies out for a ride over the city. So late one hot afternoon after his shift and before mine, Scotty Quick (Eddie Knox) and I found ourselves at the end of runway 11 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport “in position and hold” waiting the mandatory delay after the heavy airliner departed some seconds before. I decided to have some fun with Scotty. I reached down beside my seat and found my old flight manual, opened it up and started to flip through the pages. “What are you doing?” He asked. “Looking for the chapter on take offs.” I replied just as the controller cleared us for take-off. “Just kidding” I laughed as I pushed the throttle forward and began our take-off roll. Scotty laughed with me but I noticed that he kept a sharp eye on me as we climbed into the sky.

Left: ADF Receiver There was some turbulence that day so we did a little rocking and rolling until we reached a couple thousand feet of altitude and things smoothed out a little. As we were flying out over Lake Murray he said he would like to see the WCOS transmitter site. I knew the transmitter at that time was in a wooded area on Edgewood Avenue near what is now Charles W Johnson Stadium. In order to fly directly to the station I turned my Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) receiver on and tuned it to our frequency, 1400 kilohertz. We flew across the city listening to Woody with the Goodies count down the Fun 40 as he did every afternoon. Sure enough, after about 5 minutes we could see the tower and made a couple of turns around it and went on our merry way. When Woody started the top 10, I knew it was time to head back to the airport so I could land and get back to the studio in time for my shift on the Nightbeat Show.

Despite the images of fighter pilots speeding into battle listening to Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone,” rock and roll and aviation don’t really mix that well. There was too much else to listen to; instructions from controllers, position reports from other pilots and if you are in the military, Surface to Air Missile (SAM) warnings and the ever touted tone, as in “I got tone!” When a sidewinder missile was armed, the pilot heard a growl that increased in pitch until the seeker locked onto the target. When that happened the missile emitted a 400 Hz tone to let the pilot know that it was ready to fire. Today, a voice synthesizer tells the pilot that the missile is ready. Interesting enough, the synthesized voice is female. Somebody figured out the pilots paid more attention to a woman’s voice.

But even in a civilian plane, the cockpit is a very noisy place and listening to music on the radio is a distraction. So just as we say, don’t text and drive” we also say “don’t rock and roll and fly!”

There were times when I did use a radio station to navigate. When flying to Union County Airport, there were no radio-navigation aids on the field, but the WBCU Radio tower was near Buffalo, SC a mile and a half North Northwest of the airport. So sometimes I would have my ADR tuned to 1460 to help in my visual navigation to the airport.

Now I have a funny story to tell about Union County Airport. I had a flight student by the name of Frank Hill that owned his own plane. He was based out of Union County Airport. He wanted to get his Commercial Pilot’s License so he could fly out of state customers to hunt on his quail farm. To make things better for his passengers, he had installed an 8 track tape deck and some speakers behind the back seats. He would fly down to Columbia several times a week for lessons. Despite his appearances, Frank was a pretty good pilot and he was soon ready for his Commercial Flight Test. So I signed off his log and he taxied down to the FAA office to take his test. I was surprised when he came back in half an hour instead of the two hours I expected the check ride to take. Frank was all red faced because the FAA inspector took one look at the extra audio gear and asked Frank for the mechanical log on the airplane. It seems that the weight and balance charts for the plane were not re-calibrated after the installation of the audio gear and the inspector refused to fly in Frank’s plane. He got his license by renting one of our planes for the check ride that day.

Left: Frank Hill on the Tonight Show Now, just in case the name Frank Hill is tickling a place in the hallways of your memories, you just might remember the night he was on Johnny Carson’s show on NBC. You see, Frank had this idea that he could encapsulate quail droppings in Lucite plastic and sell the resulting pendants as art. The Tonight Show staff got wind of this and Frank was invited to appear with Johnny. This is not a tall tale. Just Google Johnny Carson and Quail Droppings, and you can see it all. By the way, Frank dressed the same for the show as he did for his flying lessons; blue or grey denim pants, wool lumberjack shirt, red hat and a quail dropping necklace. Frank gave me one of those beauties but alas, I can’t find it anymore. Oh MY!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It’s the song, not the medium!

This summer, I’ve been following the hot debate of which is better, analog or digital. There have been long, sometimes heated discussion over which is better. I would like to propose that neither is better, they are only different. To me, it is the content! I’ve heard songs that I would not buy on either and songs that I love even though they are poorly recorded.

A perfect example of the latter is the Moody Blues song “Go Now”, the Merseybeat/R&B Fusion song that hit the charts in 64. The “B” side in the US was “Lose Your Money” and “It’s Easy Child” in the UK. There is so much distortion in “Go Now” that I swear the record wears down the needle instead of the other way round. Neither of the B side tunes are that distorted but they are not far from it. Distorted or not, this is one of my favorite tunes. In fact, a friend put me onto the fact that someone has processed “Go Now” to digitally eliminate the distortion. But I must admit that it doesn’t have the same feel as the original version. I must be addicted to the fuzz!

Another example is “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians. The hole in the middle of the single we had at WCOS was slightly off center causing the song to warble slightly as we played it. Even the replacement that was substituted when there was too much Q-burn on the original 45 has the same offset hole. When I heard the song on other stations such as WTMA in Charleston or WPDQ and WAPE in Jacksonville, it just didn’t sound the same. I missed that 45 rpm warble that gave it a Hammond Organ sound created by their Leslie Rotating Speaker cabinets. Needless to say the digital copy I know own is the more technically perfect recording, but it is just not the same.

I mentioned Q-burn a while ago. Q-burn is that second or two of scratchy sound at the beginning of all the records that have been in rotation for more than a week or so. It comes from the practice of cueing up a record in order to play it. The DJ would place the needle on the outer edge of the record, rotate the record forward by hand until he or she could hear the first notes, then back it up until just before the first note. When it became time to play the record, the DJ would hold the record on the edge and turn on the turntable which would come up to speed under the stationary record. Then, the DJ would release the record and the music would start at the right time. All of this caused Q-burn. Even to this day, certain songs don’t sound quite right without Q-burn.

Let’s take a couple of songs that were released by artists in the vinyl era and covered using the same musical arrangements by artists later when recording techniques had “improved.” My first example is “Rockin’ Robin”– Bobby Day (1958 Vinyl 45) and Michael Jackson (1972 Vinyl 33 1/3). Even on a freshly minted 45, Bobby Day’s version had audible clicks and noises. Michael’s version was a cleaner recording, but my ears still liked Bobby’s version with his more mature voice better. Another example is “I Want Candy!” The original version was done by The Strangeloves, a pseudonym for the writers; Bert Berns, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer in 1965. It has a much warmer sound on the bottom end than Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 cover. Conversely, the or high notes in Anabella Lwin’s voice on the later release are cleaner.

The high end, ahhh the holy grail of the digital audiophile; it is the forte of the digital recording. Vinyl 45s were engineered to start rolling off the higher frequencies around 7,000 hertz, which was the practical limit to the AM transmitter of the day. After all, record sales were driven by radio airplay so the match was a natural one. When 12 inch albums came along that were played more and more on FM stations that had double the audio bandwidth. CD’s and HD radio go even higher yet, up to 20,000 hertz.

Ironically the millennials of today tend not to fill their young ears with high quality digital recordings. Most of them rely on lower quality MP3 recordings downloaded from the internet directly from artists’ sites that tend to have the same quality as those 45 RPM records of my youth. Hence my argument that it is the song not the media that makes the grade.

Besides, I can no longer hear music at much over 10,000 hertz. I used to pride myself on being able to walk into at TV station’s master control room and tell if all the monitors were working without looking at then by listening to the 18,000 hertz whine of their high voltage supplies. I guess it is all those hours playing rock and roll on the radio with headphones on, but it is true, my hearing is not what it was back in the days of AM radio. To me, AM radio, 45 RPM records and MP3 files all sound the same, except for the warm bass of the analog sources. And that’s all right with me. After all, it’s the song, not the medium. Oh MY!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

You can’t take the radio station out of the DJ!

There is an old saying about radio DJs; “You can take the DJ out of the radio station but you can’t take the radio station out of the DJ!” To be sure, a similar saying exists for other professions but there are few for which the saying is stronger.

Every now and then, I run into one of my DJ colleagues on the street or in a local store. Invariably the conversation turns to the good old days of radio complete with “war stories” of things that happened then. Often these stories are repeats and that drives the non DJs standing around listening little crazy. Stories of funny things that happened in the studio and updates on what is happening with our other DJ friends are shared while eyes are rolling all around.

Something else that marks an old DJ is while listening to the radio we “walk up the record” and “hit the post!” Huh! You ask! What the heck is that? Well walking up the record is the practice of talking over the instrumental introduction to most songs and hitting the post is stopping within a beat of the beginning of the vocal part of the song. It’s just something that disk jockeys do. Just like breathing. So down the road I go walking up the top of the pops and the cream of the crop as the driver in the other lane looks at me like I have two heads. On a really good day I can hit the post on a song, then start up again over the tail of the song while listening for the first notes of the next song, recognize it, and walking up the next record. When I “hit the post” I celebrate with a fist pump as the driver in the next lane moves over to give me a little more room.

That brings me to another hallmark of an old school DJ; recognizing a song from the first few sounds of its opening. One learns that skill from doing remotes where the songs are played by the control operator back in the control room. It is not always possible to maintain contact with the studio so the remote DJ has a cue line that he or she uses to tell the control operator to play a station break. “We’ll be back in a moment with more from Uncle Bob’s Car Dealer after these short announcements” is a good example of one of these. The cue back to us is usually the station jingle. We know at the end of that jingle there will be a song and that our remote line will be “hot” so we could walk up the intro if we wanted to.

Left: This is the type of radio I used for remotes. What made all of this possible back in the day was the fact that there was no delay from the microphone through the transmitter. This meant that you could connect a headphone to a radio and listen in real time to what was happening. You could really hear it all, the reverb, the audio processing and compression right in your ears. I had an old tube type desktop radio and set of headphones that I kept with me for remotes. I used it for years at Doug Broome’s Drive In. It “lived” in the cubbyhole in the common entrance to the studio and was the first thing that went into the cardboard teletype paper box that carried all my “stuff” between the studios on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartments and Doug Broome’s. You can’t do that these days because almost all radio stations have a delay between the audio board in the control room and the transmitter. Part of this delay is intentional; a 10 second digital delay system that can be “dumped” if somehow a “no no” gets past the DJ. The rest of it comes from the transmission process in the transmitter itself. So what you hear on the air can be as much as 17 seconds later than what was said into the microphone. The same is true for internet streams of broadcasts, only that delay is variable and becomes longer the longer you remain tuned in to that stream.

Another hallmark of an old school radio program is that the DJ speaks more often and always for a shorter time each time he or she speaks. In fact, I would have been fired if I allowed two songs to touch each other without a voice over or some production element such as a jingle between them. The kids would often complain about that, but you see, that was the point. It was harder to pirate a song off the radio onto a cassette if something else was always going on. We had to keep the record companies happy too.

Left: Turntable similar to those used in the WCOS Control Room on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartments. Speaking of jingles, they were not sacred. They had intros that could be “walked up” bridges that could be over spoke and endings that were perfect for starting the next song. By the way, when playing songs off of records and jingles off of reel to reel tapes, there were no aids to assist the DJ in “hitting the post.” These days, automation systems running in DJ assist mode present visual cues to the DJ of how must time is left until the post or the end of the song. Some give you countdowns in the form of a digital clock, others let you know with a “pie chart” containing a slice that gets smaller each second and others give you a bar filling up, like Windows does when you are downloading a file. Back in the day, the DJ had to “own” the song’s intro. That made it more fun and dangerous at the same time. If the DJ spoke too long, he or she would “step on” the song. And that was bad. Note: some of the old school DJs still working with automation in DJ Assist mode, ignore the visual aids. These are the coolest of the cool.

This is why I love live radio so much. There is nothing like hearing a great DJ work at his trade. There is no such thing as a perfect live show; there is always some sort of flub, mispronunciation or stepping on a record. The recovery, how the DJ handles his or her own mistakes is a big part of it all. In case you are wondering, the gold standard of the perfect intro is when a DJ interacts with the singer or the musicians on the song right up to the post. A great example is saying the station call letters on the last four (or five in the case of FM) downbeats before the singing starts. That always gets a fist pump and a “whoop” the second the microphone is turned off. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The TV Meteorologist!

I don’t remember ever hearing someone on the radio whose only job it was to give the weather forecast. I wonder why? Upon reflection, I think weather is more of a visual thing. Back in the day the weather was read by the newscaster at the end of the local news block or by the disk jockey in the middle of the music block. But there was never someone who’s sole responsibility it was to give the weather. The closest I remember was John Purvis, the chief of the local National Weather Service bureau in Columbia would call us several times a day and we would record him as he read the forecast. Then we would play back that forecast until he would record the next one.

That was a lot of work for John. One day, I asked him why he went through the trouble; he said he wanted to get the weather on the air correctly. It seems that we disk jockeys took too much liberty and the message wasn’t getting through to his satisfaction. Even as one of the guilty parties I can sympathize with him. During the late 70s and early 80s I was the Chairman of the South Carolina Emergency Broadcast (EBS) committee. One of those springs during Tornado Awareness Week, John and I decided to postpone a scheduled test of a tornado warning on the EBS system because there was a chance of an actual tornado that day. We didn’t want to confuse anyone. So John posted a notice on the SC Weather Teletype network that we were postponing the test. Sadly to say that the morning man on my station thought that was hilarious and said so on the air. I shot him a look through the control room window that would freeze an angry bear in his tracks. All I got from him was a shrug. But John called him and the on air jokes stopped immediately. Apparently John’s bear freezing stare worked better on the phone than mine did through a pane of glass.

Left: George Winterling I’ve known some disk jockeys who went from spinning records to TV weathermen and women. Two of those were Karen Maginnis over at CNN and Jim Ramsey at WGN in Chicago who both got their start at WIS-Radio as part time DJs while I was there. A third notable is Joe Pinner who has been giving the weather at WIS-TV for over 50 years now. Joe’s first love was radio, having gotten his start at radio stations in Eastern North Carolina, Jacksonville Florida and Columbia SC. Most TV weather people are certified by the American Meteorological Society after taking their course and passing an exam. Less frequently, TV Meteorologists have college degrees in their field. Two TV Meteorologists I know graduated in Meteorology from Florida State University. One was Jim Gandy here in Columbia, SC. Jim worked early in his career creating weather forecasts for the northern Gulf of Mexico working for the oil companies before turning his talents to TV. He always includes the science of the weather in his forecasts. The other graduate meteorologist is George Winterling who started his career in the service and with the National Weather Service. In 1962, George approached WJXT management with a new idea: add a meteorologist to the news broadcast to present a weather forecast. He later created of the "Heat Index" sometimes called the “Feels Like Temperature.” Joe, Jim and I were all influenced in our broadcast careers by watching George over his many years at WJXT-TV.

The art of presenting the forecasts has changed significantly since the early days. Back in the early years, there were maps on the wall behind Plexiglas, and the weather man would write the temperatures for each of the cities and maybe a funny faced sun or a cloud with grease pencil for each forecast. The clouds and sun were mostly drawn in live on the air in order to give dynamics to the forecast. That meant the weather person would have to turn his or her back to the camera to draw. Turning one’s back to the camera was a television no – no, so they had to learn to draw fast.

Then three inventions came along that changed things forever.

The first was the chroma-key. Using this technology the technical director in the control room could replace a single color that the camera can see with a map or other graphic. In the early days, that color was a deep sky blue which created the strongest signal on the blue tube in a television camera which made for the cleanest overlay. Today, the color is green, hence the name “Green Screen” used in both TV and movies.

The second was the television graphic generator. The first of these was called a “Chyron.” The earliest ones generated text only images that were used instead of the grease pencil notations. They quickly advanced to be able to produce, maps, little suns, moons and other weather icons. So the walls were replaced with the chroma-key screens and the weathercaster had to learn to look at a monitor that shows them themselves super imposed over the image of the map or weather conditions. This was a challenge because this is not a mirror image, instead it is a true image the way everyone else sees you. Everything is backwards. If you think it is easy, try combing your hair while looking at your cell phone’s live image of you. Some long time weather folks never could make that transition.

The third major advancement was digital radar and Doppler Radar. This is what you see today. Digital signals from multiple Doppler Radars, Satellite or some combination are fed into a computer and enhanced with other graphics to show intensity and direction. In certain cases even 3-D graphics of a local storm can be shown.

Just for grins, while working in a studio that had a green screen, I switched up the weather radar over the green screen in the control room. Then walked into the studio and stood in front of it and tried to point to the passing thunderstorms. I finally got it right on the fourth or fifth try. I can just imagine being live doing that with a microphone pinned to my jacket, an Interrupted Feed Back (IFB) ear bud stuck in my ear and a big electronics fanny pack hanging on my belt. I guess it is a good thing that I have a face made for radio! Oh MY!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hamburger Heaven!

Every evening but Sunday, I would pull my lime green Plymouth into the empty parking space behind the radio booth at Doug Broom’s Drive in on Two Notch Road, unlock the door and turn on the studio equipment, lights and air conditioner. Before I had unpacked the records and commercial carts, Arthur, the store manager would notice my arrival and one of the car hops would be at the still open back door with one of Doug’s famous “Big Joy” hamburgers, a tall glass of Pepsi and a plate of hot French fries. Oh Boy, this is gonna be a rockin’ night.

I saw a discussion a couple of months ago about the name of Doug’s hamburgers; “Big Boy” vs “Big Joy” which was it. Well, the answer is both. Doug called it the “Big Boy” until 1966 when the first Shoney’s arrived in the city on Belt Line Boulevard and he was forced to change the name to “Big Joy” to avoid copyright infringement. I have to tell you that I still liked the “Big Joy” better. It was almost my favorite hamburger of all time.

Now, unless you lived in Jacksonville, Florida in the early to mid ‘60s, you would not have heard of my favorite; the Penny Burger! The Penny Burger shops were in several locations in Jacksonville, the closest to me where St. Johns Ave and Hershel Street combine to cross over the Big Fishwer Creek. It was so cool to park in their lot and munch down on three or four of these burgers while looking at the water in the creek flow down to the St. Johns River and listening to the Platters or Buddy Holly on the radio.

I know what you are thinking; three or four hamburgers! No, we didn’t have bottomless pits, these Penny Burgers were similar to today’s Krystal or White Castle burgers. They came with onions, mustard and a slice of pickle. They were to die for, and maybe we did. What made them so great was the hamburger juice that permeated two inch roll with that great beefy flavor. Penny Burger’s passed from my life when I moved to SC to attend college. On trips back to Jacksonville, I discovered that Krystal Burgers had supplanted Penny Burgers and that was pretty much OK with me. They satisfied my craving for small hamburgers.

Fast forward 25 years or so and Krystal finally spread into the Carolinas and there was one or two franchises in Columbia. They did not last long and now we are again barren of tiny hamburgers. Except now you can get a White Castle Burger in the frozen food section of most grocery stores. It’s just not the same. There is no section in the store where I can sit in my car and eat them while listening to an oldie or two.

Just across South Main Street, cattycorner to the Honeycomb Dorms at USC. There was a restaurant called “The Kollege Korner,” that served a mighty fine hamburger. It was full sized and came complete with all the fixin’s you wanted; mustard, grilled onion, lettuce and tomato. (You can’t forget the veggies!) A couple of times each week, I’d seek refuge from the cafeteria food and enjoy a burger and piping hot fries there.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pimento Burger at the Dairy Bar a block from the State House on South Main Street. This beauty came with mustard, lettuce and tomato, onion and a big dollop of pimento cheese. When one of my buddies talked me into going up the street and trying one, I admit I was a bit skeptical. But, OMG it was delicious, even better with the Pimento French Fries on the plate next to it. This was a true guilty pleasure, a cardiac special that I can no longer indulge in more than once or twice a year when I split one with a friend or co-worker down at Rockaway’s where you can still get them.

I know I sound like a curmudgeon when I say that hamburgers don’t taste as good today as they did back then. But it’s true! I don’t know if it is a change in the way hamburger is produced or just that my taste buds have gotten older. I suspect that it is both! I’ll have a burger, fries and coke, please. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Analog Radios made the best noises!

I was going through my special effects files the other day looking for a particular sound effect. I forget now what I was looking for because I got sidetracked by a sound I have not heard in many years; the sound of an analog AM radio receiver being tuned across a crowded band.

That sound immediately took me back to the days when radio was king. We would sit in the living room and tune the big console radio across the band to pick up “The Lone Ranger”, “Superman” or “Tom Corbett’s Space Cadets”. There were no push buttons on those radios so to get from Dad’s music station to “Kemo Sabe” we turned the big knob on the right. In the meantime we would hear squeals, static, buzzes and bits of other radio programs as we tuned across the dial. Every now and then, we would get hijacked by a snippet of a cool song or a DJ plying his trade.

It was a discovery process, by a turn of the knob; we would discover a new station that had just gone on the air playing great music. That was how I discovered one of my all time favorite stations, WAPE! They had just gone on the air as a 25,000 watt daytime only station in Orange Park less than 5 miles from my home. I was tuning down the band from WJAX, where Dad was listening to the news towards WPDQ at 600 on the dial. As I crossed 690, where there had only been Spanish music from Cuba, I heard the tail end of one of my favorite rock and roll songs followed by what sounded like the anguished cry of someone who had just had his foot run over by a car. That stopped me cold. I had been captured by the “Ape Call.” There was something special about the sound of this station. It was loud, boisterous and utterly cool. The signal was clearer even than WJAX which operated it’s transmitter from the nearby Murray Hill Country Club at 930 on the dial.

The Big Ape, being a daytime only station at the time signed on at sunrise and off at sunset. So while waiting for the route managers to bring us our newspaper bundles on our early morning paper routes our transistor radios where quietly tuned to WPDQ or WMBR. So we still have plenty of opportunity to tune across the dial and catch the snippets as we retuned once the sun rose. Many an evening we would tune back and forth.

WAPE’s playlist leaned more towards rockabilly than the other stations, which gave it the unique sound it had. But sometimes we would want to hear songs that were not on the Big Ape’s playlist. So “squawk, buzz squeal” we would tune over to WPDQ for a while. Even after “The Ape” went full power 50,000 watts day and 10,000 watts night. Then one night, on the way back from a trip to Keystone Heights, we discovered that we could not hear WAPE, even when we passed within a mile of their studios. It was not until we reached our neighborhood that we could hear them again. Strangely enough they came in like gangbusters at the drive in movies on Normandy Boulevard west of Jacksonville. The signal was nuch stronger than at home which was between the drive in and the WAPE Studios. A decade I discovered the reason when I visited the station and Alan Sands told me that the nighttime transmitter was out Normandy just past the theater and the signal beam was so tight that they could not hear the transmitter in the studio. So they piped the output of a radio receiver at the transmitter back to the studios on a phone line to meet the FCC requirements.

That got me to thinking, yes I do that sometimes, about the other sounds that you don’t hear or rarely hear anymore; the “plunk” of a phonograph needle hitting a record, the whirr of an attic fan blade, the “snick snick” of a rotating head lawn sprinkler (the new ones sound different) of the flapping of a playing card attached to a bicycle or even the throaty roar of a glass pack muffler. You may think that there are loud cars today but to me the baddest of the bad today sound like a mosquito when compared to Phillip Morris’ glass pack equipped Lincoln revving up in front of my radio booth at Doug Broome’s on a Friday night. He could make the panes of class in the booth’s windows sing.

It has been said that the sense of smell is the one that evokes memories the strongest. But to me sounds from the past are equally as strong. I’m sitting here listening to a Buddy Holly song playing and remembering a windswept, sunny day laying on a towel in the middle of Ponte Vedra beach surrounded by my classmates on a Saturday morning. The cries of the seagulls in the air, the sound of waves crashing on the beach and the echoes of the “Big Ape Call” reverberating from the many radios up and down the beach to remind us to turn – not burn! Oh MY!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

It happens every summer - I’m Bored!

Just before coming in here to write, I saw where a classmate of mine posted “I’m Bored” to her Facebook timeline. That gave me a chuckle as I thought, “Right on time!”

Back in the day, it was the second week of July; check! We were out of school since the end of May; check! It was too hot to be outside; check! Yup, it was about time for every elementary school kid to start bugging their moms and dads about being bored. All year long we waited for the summer vacation and now it is here. We’ve been blasting through the neighborhood terrorizing every living thing; riding our bikes, running through the sprinkler in the front yard, playing baseball and watching the girls in the neighborhood walk by looking so cool. Just how in the heck did they pull that off? I was standing there covered in sweat and clay from that last slide into home plate.

It was in the upper 90s and the humidity was about a thousand percent, you know, typical summer in northern Florida. The 3 PM thundershower was still hours away and even thought it will cool things down a little it will raise the humidity even higher. I’ve been up since 4:30, rising early to throw my paper route. I couldn’t go “collecting” because of the heat and all the husbands are at work. The housewives always told us to come back after five when they can pay you. Was it the sweat or the dirt from the base path between third and home? I’ll never know.

Midday was the part of the day when time stood still. If I was clean enough, I was allowed to lie on the rug in the living room and listen to the DJs on the radio ply their trade. Otherwise, I could get my transistor radio and lie on the grass in the shade of the pine trees in the back yard. It really didn’t matter much either way. There was no air conditioning in homes back then, so I had the choice of the sea breezes outside, when they were blowing, or the attic fan inside. I was always amazed that the “slick – slick” of the fan belt would keep time with the latest song from Buddy Holley, Little Richard or Elvis.

Later, I’d gather with a couple of classmate friends down on the corner and we would ride our bikes around, sometimes to patrol the street where one of the girls we liked lived. Occasionally we were rewarded for our efforts when she came out and talked with us for a while. Other times we would ride down to Cedar Creek or the Ortega River to watch them work on the boats in the boatyards.

We also augmented our paper route income by mowing lawns. That really kept us busy because grass really grew with the perfect mixture of sun and showers. This necessitated a mowing every 10 days or so. Of course, our own lawn got special treatment, a trimming every week, usually on Saturdays when Dad was there to oversee.

Three summers had an extra activity, swim lessons down at Lackawanna Pool. Three days a week for six weeks each year garnered us Beginning Swimmer, Intermediate Swimmer and Advanced Swimmer certificates. Usually, being in the water was a lot of fun, but this was a lot of work. I opted out of life guard training which would have come the following year. I was so skinny back then; I thought the girls would laugh at me sitting up in a lifeguard chair. Besides, I didn’t have reliable daily transportation to the beach.

Now, you are thinking that I’ve forgotten summer school reading. Nope – there was no such thing back then. Well, there was this one English teacher who had the gall to assign three extremely boring books to read before my senior year. I struggled through one and a half before giving up. Lucky thing for me, I didn’t have him the next year. I would be remiss however if I didn’t note that I read all three of those assigned books as an adult and loved them! I guess it is all about perspective. My reading tastes leaned more to Jules Verne and Tolkien back then.

So, back in the day, during the latter part of the summer, I would say to myself, “I’m Bored!” But from the time I started college, I don’t think I ever felt bored. Even now, being semi-retired, I have something going on all the time. I wonder if I will ever slow down enough to be bored again. I suspect that time is coming. But being surrounded by friends, memories, music and books, I don’t think it’s coming soon. Oh MY!