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!