My wife and I purchased and installed a satellite radio receiver in our car just before a Christmas time trip to Texas. We'd made that trip once before -- albeit in separate vehicles -- when she first moved to Nebraska, and we both agreed that we needed more listening options than we'd get by playing roulette with the radio dial, not only crossing our fingers that we'd find a station that the two of us would like, but also one that would maintain a fair-to-decent signal over more than a 50 mile stretch of highway. Our new SiriusXM receiver, we hoped, would give us trouble-free listening no matter where we would roam.
Of course, we hedged our bets; I packed an MP3 player and she packed a stack of CDs. We weren't about to get caught napping -- a certain no-no when making a hefty road trip.
Thankfully, the receiver performed as promised all the way to Texas and all the way home. We need not have worried; we had more than enough music, talk and sports stations to keep us entertained, without having to worry about a signal fuzzing and fading away.
On a more recent trip, I was scanning through the channels we have available to us and I found one that I have a particular weakness for: Radio Classics (found on Sirius channel 118 and XM channel 164), which -- as the name promises - features recordings of old-time radio series.
I've had a fascination with radio shows for as long as I can remember, even though I'm not of the generation that grew up on them. When I was very young, an earlier incarnation of McCook's KZMC-FM would re-broadcast episodes of the 1950s radio drama "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," a detective serial that revolved around (of all people) an insurance investigator and (of all things) his expense reports, every morning. My older brother and I became faithful listeners to these two-fisted tales. They were a kind of time machine, if you will; one that allowed me to use my fertile imagination and peer into a world that was both alien and familiar all at once.
Listening to those shows piqued our interest in the form, and my parents fed that by buying an audio cassette of old radio commercials for me (featuring pitches for everything from nickel Pepsi-Cola to Carter's Little Liver Pills and more), while my brother received a tape that featured a distillation of news broadcasts that aired on Mutual network stations after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The tape I think I prized the most, though, was a copy of the episode of "Abbott and Costello" (complete with commercials from sole sponsor Camel cigarettes) that inserted their classic "Who's on First" vaudeville routine into a plot that revolved around Lou Costello somehow being asked to join the line-up of the New York Yankees to take the roster spot of Joe DiMaggio, who was indeed sidelined with an injury at the time. It was a wonderfully entertaining example of the radio sitcom; I can remember listening to it over and over.
I eventually lost that cassette - and it was a rather bitter disappointment. I've had the opportunity to purchase versions of "Who's on First" at other times and in other formats, but I've usually passed them over because they weren't that particular broadcast, the one that takes me back to my own days gone by. I will say, however, that I've never lost my interest in old-time radio programs, so finding Radio Classics among the options on my SiriusXM receiver has been a treat. I don't listen to it all the time, but I do check in with some frequency, and when I do, I find a fascinating and frequently entertaining archive of programming from an era that isn't as long-past as we sometimes think.
On a hunch, I just snuck a quick look at the Radio Classics schedule (on-line at www.siriusxm.com/radioclassics), and sure enough, it tells me that there's three "Johnny Dollar" episodes playing on the channel tonight (Mar. 24), and another trio next Tuesday (Mar. 29). Might just have to go for a drive then; it's been awhile since I took a spin in that old time machine and I'm curious if the ride's as much fun as I remember.