by Kevin Burton
The love we all had for radio and the vibrant world it brought to us, made it well worth risking the wrath of parents.
All of us have stories of hiding that transistor radio under our pillows, trying to be quiet so our parents wouldn’t know we were still awake. The radio was on all the time, but there was something about those stolen moments at night that made the music and games we drank in, even sweeter.
Plus, more stations would come in at night. All those choices; portals to the big world outside our neighborhoods. We travelled via that hand-held transporter and our imaginations. Fighting static, fighting sleep, we were in our element.
Given how widespread this radio-under-pillow thing was, what do you suppose the percentages were of parents who were unsuspecting and parents who knew all along?
Country music artist Lionel Cartwright told his version of this story in his 1990 song “I Watched It All (On My Radio).” The song was one of four top-ten county hits for Cartwright, including the 1991 chart-topper “Leap Of Faith.”
If you were raised on radio as I was, I Watched It All (On My Radio) will resonate with you on a number of levels.
“I had a six-transistor when I was a kid.
Under my pillow I kept it hid. When the lights went out and no one could see, over the airwaves the world came to me,” Cartwright sings.
‘I’d go through the stations ’til I found a game
I knew how they played by the sounds of their names. The sluggers hit homers, those pitchers threw smoke, and I watched it all on my radio.”
Cartwright was born in Gallipolis, Ohio but grew up in Glen Dale, West Virginia. So those games he heard could have been from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit or maybe all those and more.
After baseball Cartwright turned his attention to music.
“When the ball game was over, the wrap-up complete, I’d search through the static ’til I found a beat. The Beatles and Creedence, the Stones and the Byrds, you should have seen all the groups that I heard.”
“And on Saturday night, when the skies were all clear, a station from Nashville sometimes would appear. The steel guitars and soft Southern twang. The stars of the Grand Ole Opry would sing.”
“And I had a seat on the very front row.
And I watched it all on my radio. I watched it all on my radio.”
“I Watched It All (On My Radio)” is a young man’s reminiscence of owning a transistor radio when he was a young boy. He recalls that, at bedtime, he would take the small radio that he had hidden beneath his pillow and begin listening,” reads the song’s Wikipedia entry.
“The lyrics contain references to the peak of AM broadcasting, when most top 40 and country music stations were on the AM band. Along with recollections of listening to music from such acts as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Byrds, he also remembers listening to baseball games and Saturday night broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry.”
“Other references mentioned included tests of the Emergency Broadcast System, and the sign-off process, a sermonette by a local preacher (“to tell me what’s right, to tell me what’s wrong“), and the playing of the National Anthem.
Cartwright co-wrote the song with Don Schlitz. It was released on MCA Records in February of 1990. The song reached number eight on the country chart.
From the title you can tell that Cartwright grew up in the time of the heyday of radio. His stolen nights lacked nothing for not having pictures, nor did mine.
People all over the country tuned in, dialing and shifting the radio expertly to tune in, maybe different sounds (country, pop, R&B, rock and roll, blues). You could say their attentions were varied, but they were united by radio.
By including rock and country music in his remembrances, as well as baseball, Cartwright gives just about everybody something to smile about.