On the Virtues of AM Radio

I have to admit that when it comes to road trips, I have a weak spot for exploring local AM Radio.  In the thousands of miles I’ve covered, two highlights stand above the rest: a station in Arizona where the DJ’s spoke in Navajo and played old Johnny Cash gospel records, and an AM political show from Pensecola, when my wife and I were returning from her family’s house in Beaumont.  On that day, the host was hosting an impromptu call-in show as the entire Southeastern US fulfilled their patriotic duty by patronizing Chick-fil-A in masses that backed up every exit we passed that advertised the tasty poultry treats.

So today, I found myself heading south on 85 to visit some friends.  I was searching for news on my March Madness brackets, but found a home improvement show.  Not necessarily the most riveting listening, I thought, but as my wife and I had been having problems with our heater, I thought I might be able to pick up a couple of free tips.

I have to admit, I was rapt, not because of the spellbinding exegesis on how to evaluate a cracked fiireplace. But as a self-professed language dork, I geeked on the colloquial knowledge and folksy idioms spilling from my speakers.

But after the first caller, a strange thing happened.  The show, About Your House, ceased to discuss practical tips and became downright philosophical.  You don’t expect to get your spiritual and philosophical lessons from an AM Radio home improvement show, but perhaps getting where you don’t expect it is a nugget of wisdom all its own.

First, one of the hosts began a rant about the stereotypical college-educated architect/engineer afraid to get his hands dirty by working in the field.  What could have easily veered and crashed into a working-class screed, however, became an enlightening discussion contrasting theory and fact, how much of what causes the problem in the world of construction is when designs are made and drawn without a knowledge of the realities of the land and the house.  Often, the host argued, when that conflict arises, the onus is put on the man on the ground to fix things, because it is assumed that the plans are infallible.

Next, a cement truck driver called in.  He knew one of the hosts, and talked about how on a construction site, the host had always been kind to him, and how it had made all the difference.  So often, the caller continued, he would drive up to a site where something had gone wrong, something out of his control that made his services too early or late.  And to be blunt, some people could be real assholes about it.  Others were kind and helpful.  The host picked up the idea.  True professionals, he said, always are willing to drop what they are doing to pitch in to help with the larger project.  And greeting everyone who comes in with kindness and thank you makes the job site run better.

By the time it neared the end of the hour, I was far enough out of Charlotte that the show began to fade, and I began to search for sports radio again.  But I cracked up that I had been so entranced in a home improvement show.  So many times, I thought, our frustrations can be born when the realities on our ground don’t match the designs we’ve made.  And instead of being willing to re-assess our drawings, we can not see that it is our plans that must change, not the immutable conditions.  I also thought how true it is that the small thing of recognizing the necessity to be kind to all involved in “the project” makes all the difference in the world.  I never did learn what was wrong with my heater, but I found myself warmed by the ideas I had heard for the rest of the day.

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