After I took the 80’s music quiz it occurred to me that I would have aced the darn thing if the quiz had been about 80’s COUNTRY music. I may be an old rock ‘n roller, but I know more trivia about 80’s country music than you can shake a stick at. Yes, sir, if I’m ever on Jeopardy and that’s a category, I’ll be all over that like a hog on corn. That’s because I spent most of the 80’s working in radio…country music radio.
As a teenager I mowed yards to earn money. The week I graduated from high school I decided I wanted a real job, something that involved steady pay and a little air conditioning. I wanted to be in radio. There was an opening at our little hometown AM radio station, and I wanted it. I was so green I didn’t even know I should call to ask for an application or an interview. I just showed up unannounced one day, asked to see the owner and told him I wanted to work in radio. He stared at me, somewhat amused, for what seemed like forever and finally waved me into his office. We talked for about thirty minutes and, to make a long story short, he decided to give me a chance.
I knew nothing about radio. I learned quickly though. I loved being a deejay. At that time we still used records and turntables, and the AP machine was this big black monster that clicked and clacked throughout the day, spitting out news stories. It had a bell system that alerted you to breaking news. If you heard four bells from across the room, you knew you’d better check it because something had blown up or somebody important was dead. In an operation like small town radio, you learn how to do everything because you’re often left alone. My first day on the air by myself lightning hit the transmitter and knocked us off the air. I was scared to call the owner because I thought I’d be fired for dead air. I wasn’t, but I was introduced to our engineer, Earl, a crusty old fellow who wore a big key chain on his belt and walked around telling people to “pull his chain”. He told really dirty jokes, but they were funny, and he was harmless. All through college I worked at the station. I spun records, made commercials, took requests, gave away prizes and called local police departments to scrounge up news for the local newscasts. I read news stories and gave the pig and hog reports and the obituaries. Our newspaper was a weekly, so local folks had to turn on the radio each day to find out who had died and when their funerals were. It’s a sin to miss visitation in this part of the country. In fact, visitation followed by a trip to Dairy Queen is a big social activity in my hometown. Listeners did not miss the obituaries. They often called to give ME more details on someone’s passing. On Sunday mornings, I played gospel music and opened the door for the four or five preachers who traipsed in throughout the morning to give live sermons. They preached from a little soundproof booth behind me while I monitored their audio levels and played their weekly music selections. We had a fire and brimstone guy who banged his fists on the counter, making me jump. We had another guy who always ran over his allotted time because he couldn’t shut up, starting a weekly fight with the preacher who followed him. We even had a whole church choir that showed up one morning and announced they were going to sing with Brother Ollie. I crowded them all in the tiny control room, lined them up in front of a microphone and let them have at it. My ears rumbled from the force of their Amazing Grace.
I dealt with nice listeners, loud listeners, crazy listeners and listeners who would run you over to win a 2 liter bottle of pop and a Mello Yello T-shirt. I juggled broken turntables, severe weather and my own ignorance. Once, I caught myself right before I segued from Randy Travis’ song Diggin’ Up Bones to a commercial for Miller Funeral Home. More than anything I learned about country music. Up to that point in my life, I had hated country music. I made fun of it. Howled at it when my parents played it on the car radio. Bad mouthed it regularly. Acted like it was the scourge of the earth. But working at the radio station forced me to learn about it. I had to be able to talk intelligently about it and fill dead air between songs. I had to pretend to like it for the listeners’ sake. So I read about singers, poured over the liner notes in albums and started paying attention to the Nashville scene. I figured out that it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t learn to love the music, but eventually, I did learn to respect its writers and performers. I picked up the lyrics to the songs I played each day and hummed along despite myself. By the time the 80’s drew to a close and I starting working in television, I had quite a library of country music trivia in my head.
I still have it. Sometimes for fun, I pick a country oldies station on the radio and see how many song lyrics I know or how much I remember about each act. I know there was a Dave and Sugar before there was SugarLand. I know the number of the flight in that Shelly West-David Frizzell hit (309). I know the words to the first chorus of Hello Country Bumpkin- “She said hello country bumpkin, how’s the frost out on the pumpkin, I’ve seen some sights but man you’re something, where’d you come from country bumpkin.” I can Count The Flowers on The Wall and Take This Job and Shove It right Before the Next Tear Drop Falls. You can Send Me Down To Tucson or Lay With Me in a Field of Stone but it will make me Crazy. I Will Always Love You but Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue when there’s an Angel Flyin’ Too Close to The Ground. And I know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away and when to run. I never count my money when I’m sittin’ at the table, ‘cause there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done. So, don’t let my score on the 80’s music quiz fool you. I know more than you think. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys and that’s Close Enough to Perfect For Me.
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