Radio Daze Flashbacks

By Judy Berman

As I head home for dinner, a song comes on the radio, and it transports me into the way-back machine.

Some tunes have that power. They bring to mind people and places that you miss.

When I hear Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” I recall the coming-of-age movie. It took me back to more innocent times: roller-skating car hops, drive-in movies, and time spent with my family and friends.

But I also remember driving thru Syracuse’s north side and cranking that tune up when it played on the radio. Workers, leaving the Crouse-Hinds plant, pass by and smile. One gives me a sign of approval.

What is there about certain tunes? Some are a flashback to my teen years. Others, to my days working in radio.

Just a few notes from “Use Ta Be My Girl,” and I smile. It’s 1978. I’m in the news booth at WOLF-AM radio. Across the hall, I see “Big John” Gabriel in the DJ’s studio.

“Oh My. Oh Gee. Oh Wow. O’Jays,” Big John intones in his inimitable baritone just as the song is about to begin.

Then, my thoughts bounce back to my bumpy beginnings at WOLF. (Story here) Folks like Ron Bee, my first news director who hired me, John Gabriel and Peter King were among those who helped me overcome the rough spots.

Ron Bee, my former news director at WOLF-AM radio
Ron Bee, my former news director at WOLF-AM radio

Whether it was technical advice or just a sympathetic ear, it was appreciated. Ron Bee helped me shape my writing and interview skills. On the flip side, I also learned a lot thru Peter King’s knowledge of music trivia when I worked with him at WOLF and later at WHEN-AM.

I’m soaking all this in. Later, these early lessons prove useful when I add music beds and sound to my radio news stories.

What will enhance the story? In my head, I hear their advice and I pay attention.

The music and the DJs’ banter were comfortable friends to have alongside, whether it was on a long ride home alone at night or a raucous wake-up call on my radio from Rick and Ron in the morning.

That wild and crazy irreverent duo made me giggle as they urged their listeners to get their “crack out of the sack.”

What a great way to begin the day.

Then, the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” comes on, and it has me dancing.

It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s all music and memories to me.

A year ago, I wrote about Ron Bee who gave me my first job in radio at WOLF-AM in Syracuse, New York. Sad news. He passed away March 18, 2015. Ron was a wonderful mentor, and he is missed.

What song brings back memories for you?

Photo: Ron Bee – on air – The news director at WOLF-AM in Syracuse, New York, who first hired me.

Music Video: Ben E. King – “Stand By Me” – (1961) This song is featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film, “Stand By Me”

Music Video: The O’Jays singing “Use Ta Be My Girl” (1978)

Music Video: Bee Gees – “Night Fever” (1977)

  1. Songs can easily take us back, that’s for sure. I’ll be driving along in my car, and a song that was popular during my grueling residency years will come on, and I’m instantly back at the hospital, wearing scrubs, bleary eyed on another overnight call. Smells can do the same thing. Our minds are a complex place. 🙂

    1. Sights, sounds and smells do trigger memories. Thanks for sharing yours, Carrie. Whenever I see a lilac tree, I always think of my Mom. She had one when we lived in Central New York and they were a joy to see in the spring. I also think of her when I see beefsteak tomatoes – she grew them and we loved them. For my Dad, it is certain songs – ones that he played for us on his guitar. 😉

  2. Oh so sorry, Judy of your loss of a special friend and wonderful mentor. This makes me sad, too. I hope you will be content in your memories of Ron Bee. I liked the fun-filled comment, “Crack out of the Sack!” Also, sending you an extra hug for your day today. Hope you have an excellent memory.
    I have so many song references in my posts, but one that is a happy song which is, “My Girl” and another which is a sexy, fun one, “She’s walking back to me…” makes me happy with the first pounding of the music. “Pretty Woman, walking down the street…”

    1. Robin … Ron Bee was a great guy and is greatly missed by all those who knew him. The “crack out of the sack” comment was way before low riders were in vogue. 😉

      “My Girl” by The Temptations makes me smile. It’s a great tune. Also “Pretty Woman.” I can hear Roy Orbison’s sexy growl as he sings that tune. 😉

  3. what an incredibly fun, history, judy. i cannot even imagine for fun it all was, while learning along the way. music does have a way of recalling past events and all of the feelings that go with them. )

    1. It was a lot of fun, Beth. My Dad made my first radio – a crystal radio set – and that began my love affair with radio. With music, it’s the people, the feelings and the events that give it even more meaning. 😉

  4. There are big gaps in my pop culture knowledge, especially since there was no TV and very little radio (on the news) in my younger years. I have “La Strada,” a movie theme from Cliff’s and my dating days on my iPod, and today because my blog post is about my Aunt Cecilia turning 100, someone mentioned Pete Seeger’s “Cecilia,” the lyrics of which do not fit a Mennonite pastor’s wife.

  5. Pretty Woman starts and I am at a picnic as a teenager having a blast. Songs are the one thing that can make me feel younger than a new hairdo or any makeover. As long as I can still dance to them I will be happy.

    1. I agree, Kate, Roy Orbison certainly knew how to reel us in. I loved his voice and his music. Music was a constant companion when I was growing up, and especially when I moved away from home. I especially loved the dance tunes. 😉

  6. Judy … I saw the news this week about Ron Bee. Very sad. I didn’t know him, but certainly knew his voice. He was a local icon, certainly. As for songs that get me? I guess somewhat ironically, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” … I believe I was coming home from some sort of party (our friend Mark B was there, I remember) and it was the day we had moved our mom into a nursing home. I pulled into my driveway as that song came on the radio, and I just lost it. Didn’t go in the house for a while, if you catch my drift. Anyway, I haven’t heard that song in a while, so of course that means I’m going to hear it very soon! Thanks for jogging the memory. Really.

    1. Jim … I hadn’t heard Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, “Simple Man,” until just a minute ago. I’m including the link if you want to give it a listen. I can see why it touched your heart. Great vintage video with it.

      Every time I’d see Ron, when we both lived in Central New York, the way I’d introduce him was: “This is the man who gave me my first job in radio.” He truly was a treasure and he is missed.

      1. Thanks, Judy, I’ll give it a view/listen. Skynyrd’s roots are in Florida. Legend has it they named the band after a high school teacher some of them had, Leonard Skinner. The band’s plane went down a couple of weeks before they were scheduled to play in Columbus Ohio, Oct 1977.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend and mentor, Judy.
    I recently saw an interview with Ben E. King. He’s thrilled that “Stand By Me” has been performed by so many other artists. I think his version will always remain my favorite.
    Music can transport me back in time. I can hear a song and within an instant, a memory pops into my head. When I get stuck with my writing, I often turn on some music.

    1. I agree, Jill. No one can sing “Stand By Me” like Ben E. King. The link to the music video has him singing the song and two of the stars of the film join him on the stage. Really cute.

      Thanks, Jill. Ron Bee’s passing is sad. He brought so much joy to so many people.

      When I worked at the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, New York, one of the editors held a workshop and encouraged us to use music when writing. Maybe not in the newsroom, but I have played music to create a certain mood while I’m writing. 😉

    1. Thank you, Kath. The loss of any one who has done so much for others – both in terms of entertainment, community and religious service – is very sad. He fought a year-long battle and lost.

      WOLF-AM was the beginning of my career in radio and, yes, there were many fun and amazing times that followed. I wish I had written down more about those years as I did when I worked as a newspaper reporter.

      1. Indeed I bet you wish you had. I have moments in my life like when I was travelling abroad for two years I kept diaries but I did not take enough photos. Your friend lived a good life then, if he effected so many people.

  8. Those pictures of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever still can make me melt …I thought he was so gorgeous that I had to have my weekly dose of either that or Grease . It nearly drive my husband to drink . I suppose , even though it’s a difficult task ‘Boogie Wonderland ‘ by ‘Earth Wind and Fire and The Emotions ‘ is my song because I used to dance crazy to it in the day ☺️☺️

    1. John Travolta’s swagger as he walked down the street and his dance moves were fantastic. Yes, he was drop-dead gorgeous. I totally understand your obsession. 😉

      I just got thru watching Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland.” A very enjoyable, high-energy dance tune. 😉

  9. Hi Judy – a lot of memories back at WOLF — the only station to listen to in the sixties!! Saw Rick again a couple months ago at Carousel. Blessing to you!

  10. Such a strong post, Judy. It reminded me of so many songs from the late 50s through the 70s that can still transport me back to a situation or my age or what was important to me. This post had me singing STAND BY ME as soon as I saw the first picture.

    1. Marilyn … I agree. “Stand By Me” is such a great tune. I also loved the movie because it reminds me of when I was a teen living in the country. There’s a link to Ben E. King singing and two of the boys from the movie join him on stage. Very cute. I agree. There are so many songs from the late 50s to the early 90s that are significant to me. (Our daughters’ music in the 80s and 90s also played a huge role in our lives when they were growing up.) 😉

  11. Music is very emotive. We have a long running radio show here called Desert Island Discs. A celebrity is interviewed and asked which eight songs or pieces of music they would take with them to da deserted island. They are allowed one book choice and one luxury item. The formula of this show hasn’t changed in 40 years – it’s a fascinating incite to people’s lives.
    I’d struggle to decide on my eight tunes, but Mr Tambourine Man would definitely be there.
    Sorry to hear about the passing of your mentor, Judy.

    1. Jenny … That sounds like a fascinating show. I’d be hard pressed to narrow down my musical interests to just eight tunes AND just ONE book. Torturous. It would be fascinating to see what some would choose and why. I know I’d have a Beatles tune among the eight. Why would you choose Mr. Tambourine Man? 😉

      Thank you for your comments. Ron Bee will be missed.

      1. It’s always been a favourite of mine but it has to be Bob’s version, not the Byrds. I love the poetry in it, the ” jingle jangle mornings” and I can imagine dancing “beneath the diamond sky….”
        Choosing the other seven would be hard. Maybe we should all give it a go? 😀

  12. Clint Black’s “State of Mind” captures this for me. (I first heard it when my life was falling to pieces – 1994)

    I am sorry to read about you losing a friend & mentor. I lost mine in December….

    1. What a great tune. I hadn’t heard it before. Love the lyrics; “Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory, take you to another place in time, completely change your state of mind.” Thank you so much for sharing that.

      I’m sorry that you lost your friend and mentor in December. The world is just a bit lonelier without those people in our lives.

  13. Great post, Judy, but I’m sorry for the loss of your mentor.
    I don’t have a particular song that brings a memory, but it’s so funny that a couple of days ago I was thinking about this very topic. Toward the end of this past week’s episode of the TV show, Scandal, the song playing in the background was Stevie Wonder’s “All is Fair in Love.” It’s such a beautiful, bittersweet song. It makes me cry. I went to a Youtube recording, and there were a number of people who commented that they were listening because of the show.

    1. Another great song. I do love Stevie Wonder. I rarely ever watch TV any more, so I haven’t seen “Scandal.” The song, though, really is bittersweet.

      Merril … Like the song that you shared, memories of friends – past and present – are what I most treasure.

  14. I agree Judy, music is very evocative – a lot like perfume too, or any kind of fragrance – food smells even. In fact, if you mix the two (smells and music) you could almost feel you were having a time travel experience – without physically going anywhere of course! 😉

    I was talking to someone the other day about having a memory for actual smells without the presence of them. I didn’t realise that not everyone can do that, and it has a name (can’t remember what it’s called now). Just wondering, can you do that?

    If I want to create the illusion of feeling 18 again, I only have to play Eurythmics Thorn In My Side. It reminds me of going to stay in London with my brother looking for a flat we could share. It never worked out, far too expensive. But I can remember every café or restaurant we went to seemed to have it playing in the background. And if I want to feel 11 again I listen to Blondie’s Heart Of Glass – my first memory of being attracted to a song without anyone else pointing it out and wanting to know “Who is that band?!!!” I still have a little pale pink lipstick from that time (I wouldn’t dare use it now!) but it had a very strong fragrance, so some smell still remains. One sniff of that lipstick with my eyes shut – I’m a little girl again with her cosmetics and dressing up box!! 😀

    1. Suzy … Some smells/fragrances do take me to a different time and place. I wrote one post about how the very smell of hazelnut coffee triggered an unpleasant memory of a former boss. But others transport me to a happier place.

      I am back at a sock hop at high school whenever I hear Chubby Checkers, “The Twist.” He’s singing: “Let’s twist again like we did last summer. Let’s twist again like we did last year.” One of my former co-workers got Chubby Checker to do a shout for me – where they say “hi” to someone. I still have it. 😉

  15. People raged at Jimi Hendrix guitar Star Spangled Banner as blasphemy. They never got it that the twisted screams of the guitar represented the painful turmoil of those years.

  16. Ron was a good man, Judy. He always welcomed me into the B104.7 studios with a big smile during his stay there in his subsequent big job. I always thought in my mind that they called the station that because of his stature in Syracuse’s radio culture! I’m glad he taught you so well. RIP, Ron. Condolences to his family and friends everywhere.

    Yes, songs take me back. I relate fully to my high school- and college-years songs. Hearing BTO, Boston, Springsteen, Steely Dan … and I am young again. It’s the best Wayback Machine ever, in my opinion.

    1. Ron was a great guy and, yes, I’ve always been very grateful for the start he gave me in radio.

      They’re all great tunes, Mark. No need for Sherman or Mr. Peabody. We’ve got our own transport to the Wayback Machine. 😉

  17. Ah, yes– the ol’ song-as-instant-time-machine phenomenon! H.G Wells had a very intense experience along those lines once, when The Morlock Twist started blastin’ outta his car radio. He wound up with a literary classic, so it all worked out for the best… : )

    Fun post, Judy. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City always takes me back to high school summer vacation, and The Supremes’ Reflections In A Golden Eye (which I don’t particularly care for) takes me back to my freshman year college dorm room. Hmm– that’s a pretty narrow range. Clearly, I must work on expanding my audio stimuli!! : )

    P.S. Condolences re your buddy, Ron. I enjoyed that earlier post where you cited him as a radio daze mentor.

    1. Thank you, Mark. Ron Bee was a fun guy to work with and was very supportive when I started out. He is missed.

      Now, the Loving Spoonful and The Supremes is a wide range of musical tastes. From groovy, laid back 60s vibe to the Motown high energy of Diana Ross and company.

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