We have a clock radio on the end table next to our bed. It basically functions solely as a clock, because the radio is never turned on. When was the last time any modern American sat in a room in their home and listened to the radio?
There was a time, though, when the radio was a regular night-time companion. It was the early ’70s. UJ and I rooted for the Tribe, even though they were not good. In those days, the Indians were never on TV, and of course there weren’t personal computers or cellphone apps to give you constant score updates, so the radio was the way to follow the team. We’d listen to the games Gaylord Perry pitched and hear easygoing Herb Score talk about the Indians’ woes and occasional triumphs. And then, after the game, we’d listen to a show called Sportsline hosted by a guy named Pete Franklin.
Pete Franklin was one of the pioneers among the call-in sports broadcasters. Before there was Mike and Mike in the Morning, there was Pete Franklin at night. He was knowledgeable, sure, and terrifically opinionated, but mostly he was the king of the dismissive insult. Some guy would call in to argue with Pete about his pick on the next Browns game, and Pete would just cut him off, call him an idiot, and make some cutting remark about the guy’s intellect. A kid would propose a ludicrous trade through which the Indians would somehow end up with Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter on their roster, and Pete would tell him it was past his bedtime and to quit calling the show or Pete would tell his mother. Virtually every caller got a liberal dose of Pete’s caustic wit. And yet, people couldn’t resist calling in to cross swords with him, which made the show all the more entertaining to its fans.
There was something about listening to the show on the radio, too, that made it even more enjoyable. Sportsline was carried on a 50,000-watt, clear channel station, but it was still AM radio. You’d have to precisely tune your cheap transistor radio to land on just the right broadcast band to get the station, and even then there would be crackles of static and hisses and Pete Franklin’s brashness would fade in and fade out. You couldn’t listen to the show without realizing that it was coming from somewhere far away, which added to the exotic element of the experience. And there was something fun, too, about sitting quietly and listening carefully, hoping that Pete would come up with a really good insult for the next loudmouth know-it-all that you could share with your friends the next day, before you finally turned off the show and went to bed.
TV is great, but radio, with voices floating over the airwaves, is wonderful, too. When I’m in the car at night, I’ll try to find one of those local Cleveland sports talk shows, listen for a bit, and reconnect with that inner teenager chuckling at Pete Franklin’s latest putdown.