Normally I post about specific songs and the details that led to production, distribution and popularity, but today I want to write about my upbringing—specifically, the influence of a certain AM radio station on my understanding, awareness and love for music.
I received a transistor radio for one of my early birthdays. It was smaller than today’s smart phone, but about three times thicker—mandarin red, with a single 2.5-inch speaker, earphones and a tiny tuning wheel that picked up every AM radio station, near and far, with the best fidelity the era’s technology allowed. I carried it with me, day and night, and replaced many a 9-volt battery.
This is when I discovered “The Mighty 12-90, K-O-I-L.” I was fortunate to grow up in a market where the AM radio station for kids was playing the popular singles as well as the obscure 45-rpm releases from lesser-known artists (some soon to become well-known superstars) and B-sides.
KOIL had a diversity in music (as the weekly “surveys” displayed below reveal) that crossed genres and tastes. The jingles, bumpers and stingers were also a part of the playlist. And there were always contests to keep the audience engaged with the station.
But what made the station fun were the disc jockeys, the KOIL Good Guys. They were smart and clever, and they would spar with one another on the air, setting up conflicts and referencing each other throughout the day, which generated an urgency to tune-in later to find out what was said in response. It was brilliant marketing by Don Burden’s Star Stations.
One of the great KOIL DJ’s was Joe Light. He was irreverent (in a safe way, there was still a strict FCC he had to contend with) and quick-witted. He had running gags (as I type, his Hamburger Winner award for that day’s stupid person in the news comes to mind) intermingled with insipid jingles that mocked radio promotion (the young female chorus singing a cappella: “Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s good and Joe Light’s best”), but most important he talked with you—he made you feel like you were in on the joke. I spent many days after school laughing amid the soundtrack of my childhood.
And so I was saddened to learn that Joe Light died in Sacramento on March 28, 2013, four days before his 80th birthday. He had worked in Indianapolis, Denver, Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles and many other cities. But I fondly recall my memories when he was at KOIL in Omaha, Nebr.
Before social media, before today’s talk of having “friends” who aren’t physically present in our lives, there were radio disc jockeys. I followed Joe Light. I Liked him. “Light’s out, everybody.” Rest in peace.