Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas 1962 . . . in full-fidelity FM stereo

Here, the tree stays up until Epiphany. We do things in the proper manner.

In that spirit, Revolution 21 presents Yuletide as it was heard in 1962 -- an hour and 19 minutes of Christmas Day programming in "full-fidelity FM stereo" on KQAL radio in Omaha. If you don't remember the 1960s, particularly FM radio in the early '60s, this will be a revelation to you.

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This is not today's FM radio. This is . . . how shall we put it . . . laid back. Radio by grown-ups, you could say.

It's not all that slick. Technology was more difficult then. Records skipped, and there wasn't much money in FM in 1962. The money was over on AM, back when AM radio mattered. Really mattered.

In 1962 (in 1972, for that matter), FM was for dentist offices, your mom and dad and grandma and grandpa with their "elevator music" (look it up), and frequency modulation was for the "longhairs." No, not hippies. There weren't any yet -- "beatniks" were as counterculture as you got back then. The longhairs listened to classical music, and they were a lot more cultured than you and me.

HERE, KQAL was for the longhairs and elevator-music lovers from its inception April 19, 1959. And in 1962, it was the only station in these parts broadcasting in that newfangled "FM multiplex stereo," which became a thing in June 1961 after its approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

But you'll hear from this recording that FM receivers (or multiplex adapters, which also used to be a thing) weren't as good as they would be . . . and a 54-year-old reel-to-reel tape probably doesn't sound quite as bright as it once did. And you'll hear that stations like KQAL, at 94.1 on your FM stereo dial, still were figuring out what to do with that extra channel of audio when the records weren't playing.

Sometimes it could get weird. Listen, and you'll hear what I mean. No, I will not spoil it for you.

Some day soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

BUT THAT'S NOT what's important.

What's important is that this is the sound of Christmas in my 55-year-old head and my 55-year-old heart. It's the sound of the holidays when adults ran the world, and I was far from being one.

When I think of Christmas in our two-bedroom, one-bath house on Darryl Drive in Baton Rouge, La., this station from long ago in Omaha, where I now have lived far longer than I did in Louisiana, is pretty much what I hear. For the record, I also smell fruitcake, pecans and walnuts, fresh oranges, strong coffee, a huge spruce tree in the living room . . . and Bruce floor wax.

I hear and smell these things that are no more. The older I get, the more it happens.

With each passing year, there also are more and more "no mores." At Christmas, I see the loved ones who once filled my house and my life but are no more. I hear the voices long silent.

I remember a Christmas Day soundtrack that sounded kind of like this. As it turns out, my memories are in full-fidelity FM stereo, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember calling FM "Dentist Music" - but, it was a brave new world and if you had access to an FM radio then you'd hear a LOT of stuff you couldn't hear anywhere else.. including this.

Its lack of commercialism led to programming that was entertaining, and later on, experimental. Some of it worked here in Boston - WJIB ("beautiful music"), WCRB (classical), and WBCN (free form rock). Some of it didn't - WRKO-FM tried a "robot rock and roll DJ" - which did NOT work.

And it was tried years later as a "no paid talent needed" format, which also failed.