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Williams column: Holiday season full of radio show memories

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Although television’s debut had predated my personal 1951 “debut” into the world, I remember being exposed to a good amount of radio while growing up. I heard the radio while riding in my father’s car, but there would also be some times at home when radio listening was equal to TV watching.
After starting school, my listening was limited to summer, weekends, and nights. I remember a local afternoon program called “Going Home Show,” and another local “swap-and-sell” program known as the “Trading Post.” The only radio I heard broadcast over the intercom at Granite Quarry School was the exciting coverage of Allen Shepard’s brief sub-orbital space flight in 1961, and the heart-numbing news from Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
We listened to both WSAT and WSTP, but what I remember most was that most distinctive radio voice of announcer Russ McIntire, who started out with WSTP and later went to WSAT. The radio set to which we listened was built into my father’s floor-model hi-fi. During the Christmas season, we would play the Firestone, Goodyear, and W.T. Grant Christmas albums, all of which frequently included recordings of Bing Crosby. McIntire’s radio voice reminded me a lot of Bing Crosby’s speaking voice, which I had heard on the television reruns of the Crosby-Hope “road” pictures.
I always wondered then what Russ McIntire’s singing voice sounded like, and now, at age 61, I know. Just out of curiosity, I googled “Russ McIntire Salisbury, N.C. youtube” ( just google it and listen!), and up popped some recordings of him and his wife, Frances. The information on the post, put there by their son Russell, who had posted the recordings, mentioned that both sang professionally in the 1940s. Frances at one time sang with the North Carolina Symphony, and Russ McIntire, just like Crosby, had performed with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. When I listened on youtube, I heard similarities to Bing Crosby, but Russ McIntire was “his own man,” his voice having a uniqueness all its own, separate, and, to my hearing, equal to Crosby. Mrs. McIntire had a very beautiful soprano, and while I felt her husband to be the equal of Bing Crosby, she, in my opinion, sounded infinitely better than Dorothy Lamour!
I recall hearing a lot of music on Salisbury’s local radio stations back then: rock and roll (earlier, rockabilly), movie themes, crooners, Eddy Arnold, and slow jazz, the same kind of jazz which I also heard when entering Spence Hatley’s Music Mart on West Innes. Both local radio stations offered a certain kind of variety of music in their mix. Speaking of the word “mix,” I am reminded of the popularity of the musical “remixes” heard now. The only such “tampering” with songs that I heard in my early years were the works of Spike Jones, as well as that musical “collage” known as “The Flying Saucer” (parts 1 and 2).
Both then and now, I know, as do a multitude of other people who have also said so, that the Christmas season officially begins when the late (sadly) Andy Williams’ recording of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is first heard on the radio (“first played” doesn’t count, only “first heard, personally,” does). When I first heard his performance of that song, it was via radio, before seeing and hearing him perform it on his Christmas TV specials. I even taped it off the radio ( for personal use only) with a cassette recorder back in my early teens. Another Christmas staple which I first heard on radio was Gene Autry’s “Frosty the Snowman,” long before the TV animation came out with Jimmy Durante singing the song.
When I listen to the radio these days, I hear many marvelous “radio voices,” but as I alluded to earlier, there was something special about Russ McIntire. His was a most pleasant baritone, possessed of such calming effect that if the Cold War had suddenly become “hot,” his broadcast warning would have lacked the sufficient quality of “alarm” to convey the stark terror of the situation. Listening to such a soothing voice regularly on the radio now would probably have beneficial effects on my high blood pressure (back then I was a child, and my blood pressure was, of course, normal).
Thinking back on the early days of television, I remember astronomers saying that those early broadcasts of Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Sid Caesar, Steve Allen, Playhouse 90, Edward R. Murrow, etc. make up the leading edge of an expanding broadcast “wave” going out into space, and that they could perhaps be picked up and transformed into images and sound by some advanced alien civilization, many light years away.
For an intergalactic alien’s impression of our television, this is fortunate, because in comparison to what’s on now, we sent the best out first. If we had started television’s life with bogus survivor programs, Jerry Springer and the Kardashians, those “swell-headed” beings in outer space would have exercised their prerogative of “switching it off” years ago ( the very same prerogative that we earthlings have, with both TV and radio), which they may still do when the first episode of “Maury” reaches them.
I don’t know how radio waves fare over extremely great distances, but if aliens have fine tuning, they might be able to tune into that wave to learn not of what television now provides: studio scuffles, what Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe are doing, or who got “thrown off the island,” but what the radio waves of WSAT and WSTP reflected when I was growing up: the story of everyday life in a southern city in North Carolina, on the planet Earth, in the 1950s and 1960s. If those beings from another world happen to be far from home, “driving” that interstellar “highway,” they may enjoy the music of the”Going Home Show.” In their world, they probably have to deal with material products as well (where this physical life’s pressing needs are concerned, it’s a “material world” for all, not just for Madonna), so they could possibly identify with the “Trading Post,” and may even have a “Trading Post” of their own.
All of this, and more, would of course be brought to them by the most resonant and pleasant baritone human voice, provided that those aliens tuned into two different sections of that expanding “aural” wave, at whatever the equivalents of the numbers “1280” and “1490” happen to be on their dial.

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