As I write this, it’s the morning of the Fourth of July. We’re still many hours away from the barbecue and fireworks display that we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. I’ve just finished eating breakfast and reading the newspaper, and something I read reminded me of a radio story from years ago. The story I read was about a newspaper editor who loved taking his family to see fireworks on the Fourth of July, but who occasionally had to work the night shift at his paper, thus missing out on the annual display.
Reading that, I was transported back to Eugene, Ore., where I can vividly remember being a young DJ working an evening shift on the Fourth. I know many of us have been in this position, but this was one of those times where I was the only human being in our entire building. The studios of KKNU-FM had a couple of small windows that opened out to the parking lot. From where our building was situated, I couldn’t see the local fireworks display, but by opening one of those windows, I could hear it.
So the next time I cracked the mic, I mentioned that fact. It wasn’t a woe-is-me break, but I’m sure I said something about being so close, yet so far. And about 15 minutes later, an amazing thing happened: Two listeners drove to our deserted parking lot, got out of their car and set off a small collection of fireworks. I opened that window again, stretched my microphone arm as close to them as it would go and recorded the sounds for a few seconds. During my next break, I described the scene as best I could and played some of the audio. The whole thing was just magical.
Of course, this story has less to do with the Fourth of July and more to do with the power and intimacy of radio. We could discuss some of the more serious ways in which we’ve all seen that in action, but this is a good reminder that we’re not only broadcasting to the masses, we’re also talking to individual listeners. And sometimes, when we’re really lucky, they show us that they’re listening.