I remember the first radio station that saved my life. It was probably around 1975, and I distinctly remember hearing it on an old beat-up radio in the farm office where I was put to work in the summer on my parents' and grandparents' organic farm. I think the long-haired farm worker who "turned me on" was named Steve. But I know the radio station was WSAN, progressive rock radio. It was an AM station...can you believe it? Back then, I'm not sure FM was even invented. But that's where I first heard Todd Rundgren, Yes, Pink Floyd, and all sorts of music that made me feel not so alone. I felt different from other people, but WSAN made me feel like there were other different people out there like me. (That was the year I learned to drive a tractor.)
Then, when I proved to be a little too different for my parents and was sent to boarding school in Massachusetts, I found WSLE, an FM folk station out of Peterborough, New Hampshire. That's where I got my foundational music education and learned about Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stan Rogers (<3), Mary McCaslin, and Priscilla Herdman. Not only did that station save me multiple times but it also led to one of my most favorite moments when the hottest teacher in the school and I were sitting across from each other at a table on a sailboat in the Caribbean, and we both realized that we had relied on WSLE for our survival at the school. Eric G., are you out there? What are you listening to now?
Then in college there was my college station WMUH , which was pretty damn good and had a cast of crazy characters. The Mr. Mark Show was one of my favorites (God rest his weary soul). But it wasn't consistent in its sound--too many ethnic music hours to be reliable. However, that's where I first heard U2 and Crowded House. Years later, when I first met my husband and he asked me if there were any good radio stations in town, I knew exactly what he meant, and I answered WMUH.
When I moved to Washington DC, it was WHFS. My sweetheart at the time gave me his WHFS T-shirt, and I kept it for years, just to smell his smell and remember both him and the music we loved together--Van Morrison and Jackson Browne.
Years later, I discovered WXPN out of Philadelphia. In fact, I remember I was in a clothing store, which is no longer in business, and I heard a song on the radio and knew right away it was my kind of station. I asked the person behind the counter what station it was and that led to many years of happy listening. I still listen to WXPN, but it was satellite radio that led me to country music.
I had always said that the person who figured out how to make radio static free would be a billionaire. I was wrong about that, but satellite radio is as static free as it gets. And what's awesome is that it TELLS you the song that's playing so that if you hear a song you like, you don't have to wait around for someone to tell you who it is. That's where I discovered Kenny Chesney. But I also discovered Coldplay and the Avett Brothers. Satellite radio is a veritable moveable feast of music. And it keeps me awake and alive on my trips back and forth into New York City for work. My favorite stations are the Highway (Country), XMU (alternative college radio), and the E Street Channel, which is all Bruce Springsteen all the time. Honestly, I don't know why Bob Dylan doesn't have his own channel. And even more honestly, one day I would love to have MY own channel!
My musical tastes, as you can see, lean toward the eclectic and alternative. Before there was social media, the only way to connect with other freaks like me was through music and radio. These days there are a plethora of ways for kids to connect to one another or to connect to the world to find their tribe. But I hope radio never stops to be that beacon of life and hope and love and comfort--the bringer of music to soothe that savage beast in all of us.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com