Streaming music services are wonderful. With Apple Music, I can listen to pretty much any music I want anytime I want to hear, no matter where I happen to be. As a kid, this was a science-fictional dream. And yet, there was something about the thrill of the hunt for a particular song that is now a thing of the past.
I was thinking about this when it occurred to me that my kids will likely not experience that particular thrill. I can recall listening to the radio—the radio!—as a boy in New England. On Saturday mornings I’d tune in to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” This was my equivalent of going hunting.
Instead of a shotgun, I was armed with a two-tape deck AM/FM radio. Instead of a blind, I’d sit in my bedroom, with the warm sunlight filtering in my windows. For ammunition, I had a well-worn cassette tapes, ones that had been used over and over again, until their cases were rickety. Instead of a gunsight, I’d tune my radio to 92 PRO FM, Providence. There, I’d listen to the countdown with my fingers on the Record trigger, ready and waiting to capture my favorite songs of the day on tape so that I could listen to them whenever I wanted.
This was not an easy thing to do. The timing had to be just right. Sometimes, the DJ would talk over the beginning of the song, or the end of the song would fade out too early. Sometimes, the transition between songs wasn’t clean, or there would be a commercial first, and you had to anticipate when it would be over. If my memory serves me correctly, you had press both the Record and Play buttons simultaneously. It could take several attempts before I got a clean version of the song on tape.
I might bag three or four songs a week this way. Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” the Beatles, “Hey Jude.” The latter my brother and I would play over and over again. We thought the song was hilarious. It is one of the few songs that I played so much that I can no longer stand to listen to it.
Those rough recordings were the raw kills. They still needed to be cleaned. Doing that required the second tape deck. I scratch out the order in which I wanted to record the songs. Then, I’d put the original radio recording tape in the first tape deck, and a clean fresh tape in the second deck. With lots of Fast-Fowards and Rewinds, I’d get things set perfectly for each song, and then record onto the clean tape in the order I wanted. It could take hours to do it cleanly.
In the end, I had a tape of all of my favorite songs of the day. I could play it over and over again—but I couldn’t take it with me. I don’t recall having a tape player in my parent’s car. And I don’t think I had a portable tape player. The Sony Walkman was in its infancy.
Today, I go to iTunes, and type in “Bruce Springsteen” and then click on “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and instantly the music begins to play. I can take it wherever I go. And it is wonderful. But so was that hunt. And I’m kind of sad that my kids will miss out on the thrill that I got from hunting down the music I loved.