I was out on an extended car trip the other day, listening to the radio as I drove, and realized what I was hearing is a valuable historical artifact: the sounds of Bay Area life.
After a lifetime in the news business, I always have the car radio tuned to KCBS. All news, all day, all night. This business is addictive, like drinking or smoking. Even old newspaper hacks like me never get over it. What if you missed something?
But after an hour or so of driving, I noticed that the earlier version of the news had come on again an interview Id heard earlier was rebroadcast, and the days news was being repackaged a bit. Thats a radio concept called the newswheel based on the idea that listeners are there only for a little while, to be replaced by new listeners who havent heard the previous stuff. Its news to them.
So I began to notice the commercials the real music of our times. The most annoying, of course, is an awful jingle you must have heard:
One eight seven seven Kars 4 Kids
K-A-R-S Kars 4 Kids
One eight seven seven Kars 4 Kids
Donate your car today!
Its a flat, tuneless tune, repeated three times with a cheery reminder that Kars 4 Kids also accepts donations of motorcycles, boats and real estate.
This truly awful jingle is all over commercial radio; PBS stations, being pure of heart and all, dont have it. But its part of our lives. Its the spice of life that comes with the news.
After listening for a while, I began to discover what the real concerns of the Bay Area are not impeachment, not street crime, not wildfires. The real problems are termites, window replacement and a host of other crises.
I listened carefully: Are you bothered by lower back or neck pain? Is your business short of cash? Is your personal life a problem? Do you want to cut your electric bill? We have zero percent financing. Attention investors! We are A-plus rated! Call today!
All these unseen people are besieging us with solutions to problems we never knew we had. Its termite breeding season! Is your house ready for the holidays? Now you have a friend in the jewelry business!
Then I realized that weve always had this background noise to our lives. Before the Kars 4 Kids jingle we had others and some of them stuck with us.
See Ellis Brooks today for your Chevrolet
At the corner of Bush and Van Ness
Hes got a deal for you, oh what a deal for you
A Chevy deal that you will like the best.
Ellis Brooks would give you 5 pounds of Hills Bros. coffee if you could beat his deal.
Or another song that grated on me for years. It went to the tune of Three Blind Mice.
Four Wheel Brake!
Four Wheel Brake!
Wheels balanced and wheels aligned
At Four Wheel Brake!
These jingles are known to social scientists as earworms, songs that get stuck in your head and wont go away.
There are other commercials that stick with you. Consider Steven Matthew David, who sold stereos at the Top of the Hill, Daly City, and had radio and television commercials that were so much a part of life in the Bay Area that my colleague Peter Hartlaub cited them as part of the regions pop culture.
And Bay Area folks of a certain age all know that Tuesday is Reds Tamale Day, that Mission Street has a miracle mile, and that the cables are turning at Market and Powell because of the bargains theyre selling at Owl.
And dont forget Joe Putnam Old Giveaway Joe who sold cars on the Peninsula. It was simple dealing with him. Bring your wife or husband, pink slip and checkbook, and you could drive away that very day in a shiny new car. His inventory was always too high and his prices too low.
Ive always loved radio. I guess from when I was a little boy and my old grandfather brought me into his back room, put a set of earphones on my head and twisted a few dials. There was a crackle of static. Whats that? I asked. England, he said.
I think I was hooked from that day. The internet is small potatoes compared with listening to the weather report from Moose Jaw in the frozen north, or picking up Wolfman Jack from a Mexican station while driving down Highway 99 in the middle of the night. Adventure for the ear, paid for by singing commercials.
I still admire radio announcers. The other day, I dropped my voice into a lower register and tried it out on the Sailor Girl, my companion. Maybe I could switch jobs. Not a chance, she said. But dont worry, she said. You have a radio face.
Carl Noltes column appears Sundays. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @carlnoltesf
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