Come gather 'round the campfire, young'uns, and listen to your old auntie Aimless tell you about a long-ago era called "the late '70s". It was a much simpler time, and compared to you kids these days, we had precious few options for entertainment. Sure we had television, unlike our poor deprived parents, but this was before the advent of something called "cable," which meant that we only had 4 or 5 grainy channels to choose from. Sony's Betamax, the expensive and unwieldy precursor to the video cassette recorder (which is itself rapidly becoming obsolete), had just been invented and was years away from becoming a standard household appliance. There was no internet to surf, no Nintendo, no Gameboys or XBoxes to while away the hours.
So what did we do for fun? Well, like kids of every generation, we loved to listen to the latest pop hits - but without MTV, or streaming audio, or iTunes, our only means of learning what was new and hot and happening in music was to tune in to the local Top 40 station on our clock radios or transistors (nope, there were no Walkmans or boom boxes either)! It was in this atmosphere that the late, great Dr. Don Rose ruled the airwaves throughout the San Francisco Bay area.
Now, way back then auntie Aimless was a vastly different creature than the sophisticated woman of the world you see before you. In 1977 I was but a skinny, grubby nine-year-old failing miserably at fitting in with my wealthy, preppy classmates at the elementary school near our new house in the suburbs. To state that I didn't have a firm grasp on the prevailing cultural zeitgeist would be a massive understatement. A hopelessly late bloomer, I had just barely stopped listening to my Disney LPs, Peter Pan and Cinderella and Mary Poppins, and then only because one of my babysitters graced me with a box of Donny & Marie memorabilia she had outgrown, inadvertently triggering a years-long obsession. Needless to say, my fixation with the long out-of-style pink chiffon, purple socks and Puppy Love did not do much to endear me to my peers at Castle Rock Elementary.
One day, in the middle of fourth grade, we were called into an all-school assembly to promote the annual March of Dimes walk-a-thon. I couldn't immediately identify the man standing at the podium, but I recognized his voice as soon as he began to speak. Why, it was Dr. Donald D. Rose, the guy with the goofy voices who introduced cartoons on channel 44! (This was another mark of how out-of-it I was back then - I had no idea that the kid's TV voice-over guy actually had another, far more high-profile job).
Apparently my schoolmates were not quite as clueless.
"What's the Bay Area's BEST radio station?" he boomed.
"KFRC!!!!!!!!" the audience yelled in unison.
"Who's your favorite morning show host?"
"Doctor Don! Doctor Don!"
"And who is my special guest in the studio all month?"
"ANDY GIBB!!!!" the crowd roared.
The names KFRC and Andy Gibb meant nothing to me - but I knew that with the whole school screaming about them, I would probably do well to familiarize myself. Being in that assembly was like being given a secret decoder ring, showing me how to finally speak the same language as my fellow fourth graders. Once I started listening to Dr. Don's show each morning, I began to understand all the references to "Berzerk-ley" and "Sacra-tomato," I could join in the groaning about his corny jokes and gags and jingles, and boy, did I learn about Andy Gibb, whose silky feathered hair and dulcet harmonies instantly banished all thoughts of Donny Osmond from my mind. By the time that walk-a-thon rolled around, I happily trudged the full 20 miles (or 32 kilometers actually, this was back when they were still hoping the metric system would catch on) just for a chance to catch a glimpse of my idol (I didn't).
Listening to the KFRC morning show didn't make me instantly popular, far from it - but at least it gave me a toehold into basic social acceptability. Dr. Don was my friendly, zany, good-natured tour guide through the unexplored world of musical pop culture, and it was through his show that I learned to tell my Sylvers from my Supertramp, my Carpenters from my Commodores, my Foreigner from my Fleetwood Mac.
Hearing the news of his death on the car radio last night, it was like when Mister Rogers or Jim Henson died - I felt a little piece of my childhood crumbling away.
It seems strange to say this about the man who blasted the whole Bay Area out of bed each morning with clanging pots and pans and mooing cows and train whistles and foghorns, but . . . may he rest in peace.