Growing up, my exposure to music on the radio was minimal. I wasn’t allowed to play the radio on my own, but a lot of my young memories involve watching my dad clean the garage or change the oil in his car while KFBK NewsRadio 1530AM played in the background.
KFBK was (and still is) a talk radio station based in Sacramento, the largest city near my hometown of Stockton. Rush Limbaugh was the biggest name at the station and had a show about politics I didn’t understand very well. I was bored at the thought of listening to someone do nothing but talk for hours. My dad liked it though, and would frequently laugh while listening to it.
Based on my childhood, I still think of radio as a medium for listening to people discuss issues in the background while you do housecleaning chores.
My earliest memories of music, however, came not from the radio, but cassettes and LPs. My parents had a collection of records they kept in a milk crate by the stereo in the living room. Sometimes, when my mom went grocery shopping and wasn’t there to stop me, I would slide one of the big black disks out of its crinkly white sleeve, press it onto the turntable and push the big rectangle “play” button until it clicked.
I still remember the crackling sound it made as I carefully lifted the arm from its cradle and set the needle down in the groove, trying hard not to scratch the record. The turntable would start winding, and the music would come in, usually very softly, then I’d turn up the volume.
Sometimes I would press the various buttons on the player, never quite understanding what they did. I would push the “45” button which made records spin faster than they should, sometimes creating comical chipmunk sounds that evoked hysterical laughter from my sister and me. “What on earth is that button even for?” I wondered. “Who wants to make a normal record sound silly like that?”
My favorite record was Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and not just because it’s a good song (although it is). I liked it because I would put the record on, and gently press my finger into the side of the steel gray turntable, slowing down the playback. The harder I pressed, the slower it spun, and my sister and I would giggle like mad as we listened to McFerrin sing low, lumbering sounds like a whale’s mating call.
Of course, I was blown away the year my dad received a “compact disc set” for Christmas before we even owned a CD player. I would sometimes take a sneak peek inside the cardboard package that held the two futuristic rainbow-colored metallic discs labeled “Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos. I wondered what kind of player could read music from these impossibly-small discs that used lasers… but that’s another story altogether.