An old, familiar voice can awaken some marvelous memories

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By Steve Doyle

 Like many of my ilk, I am a manic radio listener when I’m in my car.

I push buttons until I find something I like, though it typically starts and ends with sports or news. And, no, I never stop on any other type of syndicated talk show, those that are entertainment masquerading as real news. Terry Meiners is my limit. I have CDs I play at times, can plug in an i-Pod and even dabbled with satellite radio, but the wonderful sameness of locally-licensed signals always connected with me. So it was more than wonderful the other morning when I pushed a button I had preset by genre rather than name and stunningly heard a voice that was enchanting and familiar, though anything but melodious. It was none other than The Duke Of Louisville. You may remember the Duke, otherwise known (though not necessarily legally) as Bill Bailey. He spun records and humorous commentary in the early morning hours for both WAKY and WKLO for many, many years. And his voice along with the music I was hearing suddenly became my flux capacitor, a time machine that transported me back a few decades, back to a time when there was one station, one style and, in a sense, one voice for a generation. 790, W-A-K-YYYYYYYYYY. And here it was on my radio dial again, albeit at 103.5 on FM. I have been gone for many years, traveled thousands of miles, visited almost every state and heard hundreds of radio stations, but none has resonated so much with me as WAKY. And it’s still around! I had no idea! When you leave Kentucky, you never quite leave it behind because at night you can hear the clear channel of WHAS-840. It’s always there, no matter the programming, to give you an audio umbilical cord.  But WAKY…I thought it was gone to the great digital, prerecorded programming studio in the sky. After all, it was a smaller-signal AM station, and those died sometime around Richard Nixon’s resignation. FM was king, and you just didn’t go there anymore unless you wanted news, sports or a really stern sermon on Sunday. But WAKY is back, and here was the Duke, albeit in a taped segment, delivering one of those wonderful and, well, wacky interjections he shared with listeners, often at the expense of coworkers, such as news reader Reed Yadon. The Duke was Laugh-In before that TV show ever aired, delivering the sort of hilarious one-liners and asides powerful enough to  stir a teenager from his sleep for a day at school or work. (And you know how much power is required for that.) I have for many years quoted Bailey and continued to sing the WAKY jingles in the way you hum Christmas carols and hymns. You’ve heard them so long and so frequently they become part of your internal Muzak. So it was heartening to hear WAKY’s familiar persona, albeit with the clearer FM signal. The jingles sounded similar, and the music is dead-on with the tunes I heard during those high school days. Heck, the other afternoon I heard Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson And Clover.” There was Johnny Randolph, another old (sorry, Johnny) DJ from back in the day. He and Bailey were part of what would be considered an all-star team who created a great listening post. Surely you remember Gary Burbank, Weird Beard, Mason Lee Dixon and even Shelbyville’s own Steve Cook, who became the Weekend Warrior at an early age. There were others who came and went, but these guys provided the everlasting memories. There was 24-hour music, with Bailey in the mornings and Dixon overnight. In fact, the Mason/Dixon Line was cool call-in before call-in was cool. They were your roosters and nightingales, the first and last sounds of the day. OK, a quick confession: Though I listened to WAKY for many years, I really wouldn’t admit for a while. I wasn’t considered one of the cool people, so I tried to be different (thankfully in a way unlike the tattoo-piercings-black nail polish of today). I wanted to stand out, so if the cool people were raving about the Beatles, I talked Herman’s Hermits. I listened to sports on WHAS, and at night I tuned in WLS out of Chicago. My habits had to be slightly different. But one day I realized that I could enjoy cool things even if I wasn’t cool, and I was liberated to embrace WAKY and release all those memories that were imbedded (Paul Schmidt is loving this). So it was with a huge smile and turned-up volume that I now have rejoined my relationship with WAKY. The timing seems appropriate, too, given that it was 30 years ago that thousands stormed the field between White Sox games in Chicago to declare “Death of Disco.” That, thankfully, was the day that music died, but isn’t it wonderful to know that real radio still exists? It wouldn’t surprise me if the guys at WAKY still use vinyl.