Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wicked Radio in Clarence

Did you know there was once a radio station in Clarence, New York?

Actually, you had to live on Wenner Road in the early 1970's to know about it. Let's go back 38 years or so ...

I moved to Clarence in 1970, and soon became friends with Jeff Hodge from down the street. Jeff was involved in amateur radio as a hobby and got me involved in listening to distant radio stations, which I've written about here in the past.

At some point, Jeff was showing me around his basement and he showed me the remains of a wood board about the size of a piece of looseleaf paper. It had some sort of transistor board on it, with a couple of input jacks. (Somewhere, Jeff is saying, "No, no, no, it wasn't like that at all.)

Jeff told me that the unit actually could be used for broadcasts on the FM band -- legally. The light bulb went on, and we decided to make it a joint project one summer.

This was a fine example of division of labor. Jeff was the chief engineer, so he put the transmitter together at his house. My bedroom was the broadcast studio, with the antenna wire coming in from my roof into a window. Since my house was had more records than his did, I won that argument and became programming director.

Jeff did his magic -- no wonder he went into engineering at Syracuse -- and got the transmitter working. I believe we exceeded the legal antenna length by a few dozen feet. Then again, it's not like we were in any danger of competing with anyone else's signal. We had a golf course to the north and an open field to the south, so reception was limited to a few houses to the east and west.

After considerable thought by 16-year-old's standards, we came up with WYQD. If you use your imagination, you can turn the call letters into Wicked, as in Wicked Radio. We even checked to make sure that no other station in the United States had used those call letters, as if that was necessary. Our frequency started at 92.1 or so, but -- since the frequency could be altered by a mere bump to a screw on the transmitter -- it changed relatively frequently.

I believe Jeff came up with the trademark of the station. We signed off each time with the song, "The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" by Jan and Dean. That sort of set a tone for the station. I can't say the music selection was exactly diverse.

Once we actually proved we could get on the air and clown around on the air a bit, the summer project ran out of steam. Its greatest use came when I'd plug in a record to the transmitter, put on a radio with headphones and mow the lawn with my favorite tunes playing in the background. Think of it as a much more complicated iPod, with far worse fidelity. And then supposedly (I have no memory of this, but someone else did), someone on the air said a nasty word, and the local version of the FCC (Jeff's father) came down and closed down the operation. One of our guest DJ's, no doubt.

One memory seemed to stick with people, though. At some point in the summer, I took over the role as marketing director of the station. That consisted of seeing an ad in some magazine that said, "Put your own message on a sweatshirt for only $7," or something like that. Opportunity clearly was knocking, even if I was the only one that thought sweatshirts were a great idea in July. I canvassed our audience, the other kids on the street, and took orders for sweatshirts and t-shirts. They all read "I listen to WYQD, Wicked Radio in Clarence, 92 on the dial."

No, I don't have the shirt. I would guess that at that price it became unraveled in about an hour and a half. But the memory remains. When I got back in touch with a couple of members of the neighborhood gang through Facebook over the last few months, they both mentioned the station and the shirt right off.

WYQD lives!


JudyHodge said...

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer—
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was—
Watermelons ruled.

Thick pink imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

-John Tobias

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
Received from a Friend Called Felicity.

My favorite poem. Seemed appropriate.
Thank you Mr. Watson. 7th grade English. 1970.

Marcus Alan Vincent said...

I read this poem thinking that it was written by my childhood neighbor Judy. Savoring every delicacy of nuance proffered, I marveled at the skill of the cute little blond girl from down the street. Had she grown to such stature as a poet? I was totally impressed and in awe. Then to find it was by another hand, somehow did not diminish the cherished memories of those summers gone by. Thank you, Judy, for stirring such wonderful feelings and memories of warm summer eves on Wenner Road. - Marcus Vincent

Jeff Hodge said...

Well that truly is the unabridged story of WYQD. I do remember Mrs. Bailey sporting that powder blue WYQD sweat shirt. We did change frequency often - even during the evening's broadcast to avoid interference from the Buffalo stations. Then I think we had to call our 1 or 2 listeners and tell them to adjust the dial to hear us better. We took requests, too. Make that, request (singular).

After that summer the WYQD transmitter was relegated to our linen closet at home, for storage. And has probably joined the other great stations in the sky like WYSL (at 1400 AM - the bad boy of Buffalo radio), WKBW

Wishing I could get a beef on 'weck and a Ted's hotdog here in Massachusetts,

Jeff Hodge
Clarence '72
Chief Engineer, WYQD

Kate Johnson said...

I just have traveled the same mental path as Marc. Judy - Your choice of poem is perfect for those of us who enjoy visiting the past.

Returning to Wenner Road has been interesting, to say the least. The last two years living at 8750 have provided insights that I might not have experienced living in Denver.

Budd and Jeff - Thanks for the WYQD memories.