Friday, July 23, 2010


I grew up listening to the radio. I used to listen to talk radio when I was in junior high and high school. That was before talk radio became the fascist soapbox that it is today. Back then it was Steve and Gerry and Jonathan Brandmeier. In college I got addicted to public radio while working the overnight shift as a janitor. At that time I had a cheap Walkman knockoff and when the tape I was playing got played one too many times I’d tune into public radio and listen to the news. Years later when I got a 9-to-5, still addicted to public radio, I’d hold up in my room on the weekends and listen to This American Life and Dick Buckley; week after week for years. All those Sunday afternoons spent getting drunk and reading or writing fragments of stories no one would ever see with Buckley playing all his favorite “good old good ones.” What an education Buckley gave me in jazz!

Dick Buckley died yesterday at the age of 85. He was a Chicago institution. He had an encyclopedic mind when it came to jazz. Truth be told, he was a horrible DJ. He’d flub lines and forget what he was talking about, play the wrong record, or just have dead air for a minute; but all that and his conversational manner just made him all that much more endearing. He was like that crazy uncle, spinning his jazz records, going on and on about them.

Radio is such a strange thing. When it’s done well there can be this bond that develops with a DJ, a certain kind of intimacy having this voice there in the room with you, day after day, or week after week. I don’t listen to public radio much anymore. They’ve taken the humanity out of it somehow. Bob Edwards has been relegated, This American Life is a pretty packaged product, and they never play jazz anymore. The personal has been replaced with an overly produced, glossy, corporate feeling, antiseptic thing. Going or gone are the likes of Jean Shepherd and Joe Frank and Harry Shearer. Gone is a simpler kind of radio with someone at the microphone talking, playing some records. Someone’s voice there in the room with you week after week to help pass those drunk’n afternoons.

Rest in peace Dick Buckley. Happiness…

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