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View from the Cab: Remembering AM radio

By: Kent Casson

As I hear talk of vehicle manufacturers looking to remove AM radio access, I am flooded with memories of crackling radio sounds growing up.

Dad was usually up long before the sun was and had WBBM Newsradio 780 blaring from the speakers in the kitchen for the day’s news and weather. I never understood the benefit of hearing Chicago traffic reports in our rural part of Illinois but being the radio fanatic I am, I thought it was cool to hear.

He would also listen to the closing ag market report on WILL AM 580 each weekday afternoon in the 2 p.m. hour. Through the iffy AM radio reception, we heard what corn and soybean prices did that day and what the weather looked like for the next several days. Market experts would provide their take on markets and where prices may be heading.

When I was really little, I recall the old WIRL 1290 Peoria oldies station blaring from the GMC Sierra pickup and John Deere tractor cab. While the station provided the needed information like ag reports and weather, it also featured a fun oldies music format from the 1960s. This is where I gained an appreciation to the classic rock n’ roll hits as my parents exposed me to this music at a young age.

I recall seeing an old WJBC 1230 AM bumper sticker on Dad’s pickup when I was a kid. This is when WJBC played some occasional hits and many Redbird fans tuned in to hear the excitement of Illinois State University basketball at Horton Fieldhouse back in the day. I think everyone, including my mom and grandma, woke up to the Don Monson Morning Show each weekday on that station based in southwest Bloomington.

Great Grandma Casson always spoke of having two radios in her home – one tuned to Bloomington in her bedroom and one locked in on Pontiac’s own WPOK 1080 AM. This is how she received her news each day and enjoyed a little music, too. WPOK was known for the classic Adult Standards radio music format with those artists from yesterday mixed with a few lighter contemporary hits.

Little did I know I’d be working for WPOK years later in high school as a part-time gig. The very first day on my broadcast job, I recorded a 20-second weather forecast onto a cart and stacked commercials which needed to be played that day, based on a paper log listing the scheduled events. WPOK went off the air in early 1998, after I was on the radio job only about five months but luckily, the two Pontiac FM stations continued so I could keep living out my radio dream.

AM radio has been such as big part of my life now that I think about it and I’m sure it has been a big part of yours too. Even if we have to say goodbye to the old radio band, the crackling memories live on forever.


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