9:41am

Mon May 23, 2011
Go Figure

Cracked Asphalt

Many NPR listeners are familiar with the term "driveway moment." You know, you've become so entranced by a story that you sit in your car long after the drive is over or run an extra lap around the block just to hear the conclusion of a story. Do you remember your first "driveway moment?"

I do.

My journey with radio began during the age of disco, bell-bottom pants and very bad hair (what I wouldn't do for a little extra of that hair now). Two things held my interest above all other things – the transistor radio and baseball. Ok, so three things. There was also the really pretty Allison who lived down the street.

During those tween years, nothing brought more pleasure to me than listening to Jack Buck call a St. Louis Cardinals game on KMOX radio. The crack of the bat and cheer of the crowd even drowned out the stressed voice of my dad, complaining to me about my priorities.

Paul, if you'd put the same amount of effort in your math homework as you seem to do in figuring out and memorizing Lou Brock's batting average in home games against left-handers, you'd have straight A's! Are you listening to me? Would you take that transistor radio out of your ear and listen to me?

It is true. My priorities were more about Lou Brock, Ted Simmons, and the Mad Hungarian than history class – unless it was the history of the greatness of one Bob Gibson.

I never went anywhere on the weekend without my radio. A Saturday afternoon bicycle cruise without my transistor radio was just unthinkable. What kid growing up in the 70's didn't implement the ol' rubber–band-holding-the-radio-to-the-bicycle-handle-bars trick?

Sweet.

My bike was the envy of every kid in the neighborhood. It came equipped with Harley-like handlebars, a green banana seat with sparkles, cardboard strips placed strategically along the back wheel mimicking the sound of a motorcycle as it clicked along the spokes. But the transistor radio was the most important accessory. Cruising down the neighborhood while listening to a Cardinals game was as good as it got.

Then one dark and gloomy Saturday, as I peddled up Allison's driveway, I had my first "driveway moment." And it wasn't a voluntary driveway moment either. It was a forced, you're-going-to-sit-and-listen-to-this-because-I-know-you-have-a-crush-on-me, driveway moment.

"Hi Allison!" Pitter patter

"Hi Paul. What are you listening to?"

What am I listening to? What kind of question is that?

"The baseball game," I said hesitantly.

Insert 30 seconds of dead air here.

Is this girl from Mars or something? (I would later learn that she was from Venus).

"You don't like the Cardinals?" I asked in disbelief.

"I don't like baseball. Can't you get some music on that thing? Here, let's see. "

As I watched the girl that I believed would one day be my wife turn the dial to a frequency I didn't even know existed, the dulcet sound of Jack Buck was replaced by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Sigh.

So despite my first, unfortunate driveway moment when Cupid pulled the football out from under me, I've never lost my love affair with radio.

At an early age I learned the sound of radio brought an immediacy and depth not found elsewhere. With that sound the story seemed more powerful to me.

This is why disco seems even more disturbing now. It's why hearing a KC and the Sunshine Band song still brings a cold sweat to my forehead. It's the reason I still love listening to a baseball game on the drive home. It's also why I love public radio.

Public radio takes time to tell stories through sound. And like the call of a baseball game, public radio allows the story to live and breathe, not only by the sounds but by the images and thoughts it brings to our collective imaginations.

I can happily report that I've had many driveway moments since that dark day in 1970-something (all while keeping my dignity intact).

By the way, Allison, if you're out there, I hope you're well.

We'll always have Boogie Shoes.

Paul Ahlers is the Carriage Systems Manager for Audience Insight and Research Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.