Well. By now you may have begun to notice that some of my more recent little radio essays have been sounding vaguely familiar. That’s because they were. I have been on an unintended sabbatical from this show since about August of last year. After discovering the return of endometrial cancer in mid-July, things outside my concern for my possible mortality got a little hazy — irrelevant, one might even say. I notified the folks here at KSMU that I would be going on hiatus for an indefinite period, and instead of wishing me well and sending me on my way, they said, no, they would just save my space for me.
How would they do that, I asked, and Jennifer Moore, now Davidson, just smiled and said “Reruns.” It was a huge gift, and I am more grateful than I can say.
So today’s news is, I’m back, and I’ll be back until I fall over or they throw me out for excessive doddering. The only changes of note since I’ve been away are that I’m not as strong as I was, my hands shake, I have a tiny collection of bits of implanted precious metals way deep in my innards, and I may still be somewhat radioactive. Other than that, it’s just back to business, part of which now is keeping those inevitable doddering days at bay.
I am reminded of the time, back in 1986, when I moved to West Plains to take a job at The Quill, the town’s daily newspaper. It was a splendid place to be a journalist of the old school, back when the job was a sacred trust, the only occupation actually protected by the Constitution. I was there to witness the transition from the earliest version of the desktop computer, a Tandy with a green screen and no on-board memory, to the many gigabyte miracle machines of today. No on board memory meant that you wrote the story in real-time and saved it to a disk. And if the disk was faulty, well, then, in the words of the city editor, it became one with the universe, and you wrote it again.
I was also there to witness the final unplugging of the once-ubiquitous teletype machine. replaced by a computer that brought the news to us quicker and so it didn’t need to be retyped. The price was the silence. You’d think we’d be happy at the lack of noise. But it no longer sounded like a newspaper office. It it was difficult to get used to, this loss of the ticker, and felt somehow profound, as if the pulse of the very institution had somehow flatlined.
But it wasn’t just the newspaper that was making a shift into the 20th century as it was drawing to a close. Radio was becoming computerized, and cable TV was being challenged by satellite systems. More and more, people like me, in the midst of becoming old-timers, found our realities more centered in the past than in the ever-changing tomorrow.
For instance, when I arrived in West Plains, radio was still completely, sometimes painfully, live. I will never forget the morning I tuned the car radio to the local station on my way to work to find the weather report being delivered by an elderly lady with a bad cough – and the sound of a wringer washing machine quite audible in the background. And then the phone rang, the dog barked, she scolded the dog, picked up the phone, said “I can’t talk now, I’m on the radio.” She then vigorously cleared her throat and continued with the forecast.
It was my first encounter with Mrs. Kreigh, who, with her husband, broadcast the local weather from their basement, relying on well-kept notebooks of local weather history and a little weather station, donated by the National Weather Service, in their back yard. They were remarkable accurate except in terms of local rainfall, which was sometimes skewed by the habit of local high school boys occasionally stopping by at night and reaching across the fence to top off the rain gauge. Being so far out in a mostly rural area, we still get reports from regional stations that are based on their reports from local people. Eventually, I expect, they’ll just send out little drones to gather their data, and we won’t get asked anything at all.
And as for that, I expect one day in the not so far future, I, too, will become obsolete, as the Ozarks becomes more homogenized into a national sameness and our unique ways and culture, not to mention our lack of an accent, go the way of the dinosaur, the teletype, and the Kreighs. But in the meantime, I’ll keep coming to visit with you on your way to work or on the way home, bringing you pictures of your past, and commentaries on the commonplace in these beautiful Ozark Hills. This is Marideth Sisco. It’s good to be back.