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Kent Bernhardt: Gone, or fading fast

You can wait and you can hope, but some things are fading fast, and will probably never return.

Fortunately, I’m not talking about things like technicolor sunsets, a good steak, or the warm embrace of a loved one. Those may come and go or diminish in frequency, but we’ll always have them in some form.

But there are some things we may have to wave goodbye to forever, I’m afraid. I thought about that recently while reading the blog of an old radio acquaintance.

He was lamenting the passing of the behemoth AM radio stations of yesteryear, filled to the brim with larger than life personalities who made you look forward to the end of the record so you could hear their next witticism or kind word.

Cars had no FM radios in those days, so AM radio was king. I remember two of my favorites well; WBT and WAYS.

In the 1960s, when I was just beginning to discover the radio dial, they were beaming into our homes and cars with their own unique mix of music, comedy, and of course the latest news, weather, and sports.

WAYS caught my ear first. The station was known as BIG WAYS, and their personalities were the “Good Guys,” featuring names like Jack Gale and Long John Silver. Through the early morning static, I strained to hear every word, joke, and even an occasional song.

Radio was big on imaginary comical characters in those days, and WAYS didn’t disappoint. There was a fictitious weather man named Lowell Pressure who just couldn’t quite seem to get his words to come out right, and ended each weather forecast with a corny joke.

“Why is watermelon so wet?” Lowell queried one morning.

“I don’t know, Lowell. Why IS watermelon so wet?” asked a bemused Jack Gale.

“Because its seeds are planted in the spring!”

The punchline usually wasn’t nearly as funny as the cackling of a female voice that followed, identified only as “the boss’s mother.”

“Mother! Pull yourself together!” Gale would groan.

Corny? Yes. But AM radio was built on fun in those days. The more fun, the higher the ratings. And it was the 1960s. America was in short supply of fun.

WBT was the conservative beacon of the Carolinas during most of the 1960s, but by the early 70s, the station had loosened its tie a bit. Along with an adult contemporary format, WBT introduced a new flight of personalities to the region, including H. A. Thompson and Bob Lacey.

Thompson was their long time midday host with a gift for caller interaction. He was never naughty, but his callers would often reveal intimate details of their lives you couldn’t believe they were sharing. Subsequently, you never wanted to miss a word.

Lacey had the gift of gab as well, and was rewarded with his own nighttime talk show, “Lacey Listens.” WBT could be heard up and down the east coast in the evening hours, so callers from New England to Florida reveled in his mix of gentle humor and topical conversation.

He would never remember it, but while I was supposed to be studying for exams in early December of 1974, I joined a chorus of my fellow UNCC dorm mates to serenade Bob with a few Christmas carols over the phone line.

He was wonderfully gracious, and made us promise to call him back a little closer to Christmas to sing for him again. A week or two later, many of us made a special trip to our UNCC dorm to do just that.

Such was AM radio of the 60s and 70s, before it got political and angry, and before competition from the FM dial.

Times may have changed what pours from our radios, but thankfully, many local markets — this one included — have strived to keep AM radio relevant and entertaining.

God bless each one of them. Such stations in the past became a friend to the friendless and made us feel like a special part of their family.

And family is something we could use a lot more of today.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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