I’ve been doing some research for my new play, “The Sugar Ridge Rag,” that takes place in northwestern Ohio starting in 1970. It’s about twin brothers: one enlists in the Army, and the other goes to Canada to avoid the draft. At one point they mention listening to AM radio and CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit. At the time it was the powerhouse station for rock and roll, Motown, and just about every other type of Top 40 music. What Wolfman Jack was to the “American Graffiti” generation, CKLW was to mine. Because it was AM and the frequency was a clear channel, you could pick up CKLW as far away as Des Moines or Atlanta at night.
I went on YouTube and found an aircheck — basically a sample of the station — and for eight minutes I was back in Perrysburg driving my ’65 Mustang to school, to the mall, to Zachman’s quarry to go swimming, to just riding around with my friends listening to what is arguably some of the best rock music, all over a mono AM signal from a small studio on the outskirts of a town in rural Canada. Talk about your sense-memory recall.
Time, technology, and Canadian content have taken their toll. CKLW is no longer what it was; stereo sound took away the audience from the AM dial that wanted to hear both channels, and the Canadian broadcasting authority made it so that stations in Canada had to broadcast a certain portion of their programming with Canadian artists. And their audience grew up and grew away, replaced by other tastes and interests. What was then mainstream popular music is now “classic rock” in the same way that a ’65 Mustang is a classic car. And while there’s still a market for oldies in the radio format, it comes with a monthly fee from a satellite, not a reconditioned modular home in a farm field on the outskirts of town.
Yeah, I’m a boomer, but I’m entitled to miss it.