Andre Gardner

Today (2/13) is World Radio Day. For real. This is not “National Vodka Cream Sauce Day” or some other special day drummed up by an ad agency somewhere. World Radio Day was actually proclaimed and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 2012! It was a testament to how radio has been interwoven in our lives since 1920.

Radio informs, educates and entertains, and keeps you company while you work, drive or just hang at home. I distinctly remember waking up on snowy mornings and turning on the radio, hoping to hear my school number announced. In Willingboro, New Jersey, our school code was 672. Fingers crossed. Then Dick Covington would come over KYW with the news, “in Burlington County, 670, 671, 673, 674..” Drat! No sledding for me today.

Here in Philadelphia we had our share of radio talent back in the day. Some of my earliest memories are listening to Hy Lit and Joe Niagra on WIBG, Ken Garland, Dick Clayton and Tom Moran on WIP, or the Phillies games on WCAU called by Bill Campbell, By Saam and Richie Ashburn. It was magical hearing a game on my tiny transistor radio. My love for radio exploded because of my older brother Bill Gardner. He started on the radio in 1965 and had a stellar career behind the mic. I was lucky enough listen to him when he was on WIBG, WFIL and WMMR, and that did it for me. I wanted to be in one place for the rest of my life – in a radio studio playing music.

For decades, one of the greatest thrill for a young musician was to hear their song on the radio. So, on World Radio Day, here are songs about radio. Some are positive, some are not, but they all speak to the power and reach of radio. Not all of them are complimentary of our medium, but each one speaks of the passion the writer had for radio.

  • 1. Radio Radio - Elvis Costello

    This one always gets me fired up. Elvis started writing this in the Bruce Springsteen vein before making a bit more edgy. Yeah he slams the BBC for being too commercial, but you can hear he still loves the medium. This was the song he did on Saturday Night Love, after promising them he’d do “Less Than Zero.” He played about :10 of “Less Than Zero” before launching into “Radio Radio” and getting himself banned from the show!

  • 2. Mr. Radio - Electric Light Orchestra

    This and “10538 Overture” are the two songs that got me hooked on ELO.  The incredibly Beatles-eque “Mr. Radio” tells the story of a guy who was left all alone with just his radio, after his wife took off. Lynne’s production is so good on this, the vocals sound like they’re coming over the radio. The part about 4 minutes in definitely influenced the end of 10cc’s “Un Nuit A Paris” off of their album, The Original Soundtrack.

  • 3. You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio - Joni Mitchell

    It’s not exactly a song ABOUT radio but, rather, radio as a metaphor while she speaks to an unknown person. The lyrics are, as usual with Joni, perfect, and I cracked up at the “Breakfast Barney” reference. Written at her label’s request, this song ended up being a hit for Joni Mitchell…on the radio.


  • 4. Heard It On The X - ZZ Top

    There have been several songs written about the powerful radio stations coming out of Mexico.  Here in the U.S., AM radio stations could broadcast at a maximum of 50,000 watts. Otherwise, because of the way an AM signal travels, a station could interfere with others on the same frequency in cities far away. That’s why some AM stations had to reduce power at night – AM signals travel farther at night in the thin atmosphere.  In Mexicao, the rules are different.  Stations would set up right at the border and blast music over 250,000 watts!! Woflman Jack worked at a few of those Mexican stations in the 60s. If the atmosphere was right, you could hear him on XERF 1570AM in Philadelphia!  ZZ Top wrote a killer song paying homage to those Mexican stations, which all start with “X,” unlike “W” or “K” here.

  • 5. Radio Ga Ga - Queen

    On the surface, it seems like this is not very complimentary of radio. Actually, according to songwriter Roger Taylor, it’s the opposite. He wrote it in the context of how MTV and music videos were beginning to eclipse radio in terms of how people listened to songs.  As usual, Freddie Mercury delivered a passioned vocal that made this one of Queen’s most beloved songs. So beloved, that Lady Ga Ga took her name for this great song!

  • 6. FM - Steely Dan

    I can’t tell you how excited I was when, after just one year in the radio business, one of my favorite bands of all time released a song called FM!  When we first got a copy I did think, “uh oh, the guys are goin to skewer us with their typical biting sarcasm.” No! It was a tribute to how good songs sound on the FM Band.  It was the title track from an excellent movie made about a fictional radio station called “Q-Sky.”  Thank you, Becker and Fagen!

  • 7. The Spirit Of Radio - Rush

    Rush’s classic track laments the evolution of FM radio in the 70s from a free form approach to a more structured format.  Still, I couldn’t be mad at the guys for dissing the medium, mostly because it’s SUCH a great song.  I love the phased guitar effect at the beginning, which guitarist Alex Lifeson said was his idea of tuning around a radio. When I saw Rush at the Spectrum in November, 1984, they kicked off the show with this!

  • 8. Around The Dial - The Kinks

    No guitar effect on the beginning of this song – it’s an actual radio being tuned at the start of this fantastic Kinks track.  Ray Davies is bummed because his favorite DJ has disappeared from the radio, and he can’t find him. Such a great premise, and I cannot get enough of the album from which this comes, Give The People What They Want.

  • 9. Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me) - Reunion

    Of course I had to include this gem! An early example of rap, the song paid tribute to all of the great artists he heard on the radio. The group Reunion wasn’t a band, per se, but a group of studio musicians. The lead singer, Joey Levine, sang lead on the bubblegum classic “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” among others.  I can still probably rattle off all the lyrics to this one!

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