Friday, October 28, 2016
Who buys radios?
I'd like to know exactly when my grandfather realized his stock-in-trade, his profession, was going the way of all flesh. I wonder whether that happened when the first noisy motorcar kicked up dust on the streets of Oostburg, Wisconsin, when it sputtered past the blacksmith shop where he held forth, day after day. He had to feel it when one of his farmer-customers bought a tractor, although he might well have been put at ease by the hundreds of plowshares he'd have to sharpen every winter.
Somewhere I've got a picture of him and his son, my uncle, in the shop, a whole gallery of shares hanging from the rafters while the two of them carry on around the bellows.
My father worked in the front office just down the street at a factory that made cement mixers, little ones on wheels, so that a gadzillion GIs home from war could, if it so pleased them, pour cement for homes many of them--my father included--built with his own hands.
Seems to me that my dad didn't think about the demise of the personal cement mixer all that much because someone in the upper echelon of the company had recognized long before he might have that the whole outfit had to retool itself into something else or risk drowning with all those mixers tied to its ankle. Somebody put a huge barrel mixer on the back of a truck, and that pretty much ended the story.
There had to have been some awful pain in all those transitions. I never heard much about them, but it must have been agony to be there. Mom used to talk about her father crying because the farmers whose shares he sharpened couldn't pay him during the darkest days of the Depression. Like them, he was working on speculation, hoping the next season would be different and there'd be a crop. Soon enough, his own business had dried up.
My earliest memories of Grandpa the blacksmith are of his shop, the hissing of the cooling tank, the rhythmic ring of his hammer, sooty light seeping through the windows, sweat lines on Grandpa's shirt, the nickles he'd give me for a candy bar at the store next door.
All of that ended.
Soon enough, the whole place turned into a garage. Instead of shoeing horses, Dirkse Blacksmith became Dirkse Garage and eventually Dirkse Oil, those work horses replaced by a flying red horse on the big sign out front on Main--Mobil Oil.
But no more shoes.
All of that comes to mind because the toughest moment of my yesterday happened in a radio recording studio where the CEO, a friend, told me off-handedly that people simply aren't buying radios anymore. His station had just come up short on a fund drive and he may well have been a little more morose than he needed to be, but what he said felt blistering right there in the studio: people simply aren't listening to radio. And radio is his thing.
If you can pick up any of the specialty shows on public radio by simply going to websites that deliver all of what's there, why should someone do anything as antique as tune in at a certain time to catch a certain program? We're lords of our own lives now--there are hundreds of TV stations, dozens and dozens of networks. Grandpa and Grandma Dirkse used to sit on both sides of a radio so big it was a well-designed piece of living-room furniture. Today, if we listen at all, the news comes from a slot in an car or up from a cell phone. Podcasts are scattered all over the internet, ripe for downloading.
The radio isn't dead, but somewhere in the dust lies its true golden era. Most stations run for the most part without people. Someone just buys programming and computers hum. Lots of jobs are just plain gone.
And this friend of mine is in the radio business. It's sad. It really is.
But it's also life. Technology has altered the patterns of our lives completely, just as the gas-powered engine grabbed the hammer right out of my grandpa's big hands. No matter how creative he tired to market that anvil, it had to go or it would have taken him down.
What Donald Trump is doing is inciting and exciting those workers who remember what was with a vision of returning and "making America great again." There are millions. That NAFTA was the worst piece of legislation in American history is a broadside Trump levels in every stump speech, even though experts at the Wharton school don't think it's as obvious as one of their most famous graduates does.
But whether Donald Trump is right at this moment probably doesn't matter. Yesterday I sat with a friend who is not among Trump's fervent loyalists, but when I left I can't help thinking I understood more fully how it is that so many want Trump so badly to bring back what likely isn't going to return.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:59 AM