I’ve always been a picky eater. What I didn’t like I didn’t eat, period.
But I grew up in a time when children were supposed to eat everything on their plate. This caused a bit of a rift between my mother and I, given her penchant for cooking stuff I didn’t like. The list included chitterlings, liver, kidneys, and all pork other than bacon. My brother and sister, on the other hand, dutifully ate what was given to them, especially my younger brother Norman (he’s now vegan).
What does this have to do with radio? Read on.
One of the foods on my don’t eat list was…and still is…oatmeal. I hated its texture, and thought it tasted like lumpy paste. Yet my mother insisted on cooking it for breakfast way too many times for my taste. Most of the time, I could get away with dumping it in Norman’s bowl, since he would eat anything.
One crisp fall morning, at the age of seven, I decided to enforce the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.
My mother put a bowl of oatmeal in front of me, and I simply said “I’m not eating it”. To be clear, this kind of insolence would usually result in a quick slap upside the head.
My mother, however, decided to take a stand as well. She narrowed her eyes, and said to me, “you will eat your oatmeal, or you won’t get up from this table”! The last part was between a yell and a shriek . I repeated that I wasn’t eating it, and so, I sat at the kitchen table for what turned out to be all day.
The only solace my mother allowed me was the radio on the table, which she had tuned to WCBS-AM. Prior to that morning my contact with radio had been casual. I’d listen to Top 40 radio when my mother let me (wasn’t often). That morning, I heard WCBS’ entire program lineup.
There was Arthur Godfrey, Claude Kirschner, and soap operas in 15 minute increments. I was utterly fascinated. I imagined what the voices on the radio looked like. In the case of the soap operas, I created the plot lines in my head.
Needless to say, the oatmeal sat in the bowl, untouched. My mother must have thought I was in a trance. Yet she never thought to turn the radio off, which would have made that day pure torture and might have resulted in my capitulation.
Instead, what came out of the radio that day became a portal, a means of transportation away from where and who I was. As I got older, and began listening to music radio as a tastemaker, I also imagined what a studio looked like, and the lives my favorite disc jockeys led. Radio, even more than television, became larger than life.
Yet radio in my consciousness began at that kitchen table. About 5PM that day, the milk in the oatmeal began to curdle, and my mother realized I could no longer eat it. She sent me to my room without supper that night, but further down the road, something changed. Little by little, my mother stopped trying to make me eat things I didn’t like.
She never realized the true impact of her insistence and my stubbornness.