Monday, December 1, 2014
A Fanboy of Fireside Al
As we begin the holiday season, I am drawn to memories of my days as an avid shortwave radio listener. I can't tell you exactly what date that began but I can tell you I was very young, probably about twelve years of age. My grandfather Everett Reed and I had very little in common. He found me and my toys a bit of an annoyance. We had a duplex house and he and my grandmother lived in the other apartment. There was a doorway between them, so I had easy access to their side of the house. Grandpa Reed was always a mystery to me as he had a wooden leg. Later I would learn that he lost one leg in a tragic motorcycle accident caused when a drunk driver swerved into the path of the cycle. That was in 1921. So for the rest of his life he had a prosthetic leg. He got around reasonably well.
One day I saw him string a long wire from his bedroom window to our garage/barn. This wire disappeared into a hole in the window casing and he connected it (an antenna) to his radio that sat beside his bed. Every time I visited their apartment, especially at night, I would see grandpa sitting in a chair beside his bed listening to the radio. Sometimes I would hear things like: “This is Radio Moscow,” or “You are listening to Deutsche Welle,” “This is Radio Canada International,” or “This is the Voice of America.” Sometimes I would just hear him listening to conversations that began with a jumble of letters and numbers and ended with the word “over.” Then another voice would say similar letters and numbers, talk for a while and then say “over.” When I asked him what that was, he said they were hams. He told me hams were amateur radio operators from all parts of the world. Sometimes they would use their voice and other times they would just send messages using the morse code. He listened to the voice conversations for hours on end. When I took an interest in the shortwave radio he suddenly had more time for me. We had something in common. Grandpa died about a year later. Grandma said I should have his radio which I gladly accepted. Thus began my personal shortwave radio listening.
Shortwave listening was where, in the 1970s, I discovered a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program called As It Happens. One of the regular hosts of that program was a gentleman named Alan Maitland. As It Happens was broadcast on the regular CBC Radio Network every evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and was also carried by Radio Canada International, the shortwave station. So, every evening I found myself listening to the broadcast, long before it was picked up by public radio here in the US. A regular feature of As It Happens was a segment they called “Fireside Al,” “Porchside Al” in the summertime. Alan Maitland would play the roll of storyteller where he would tell a classic tale or other story he found interesting. I was not the only one that liked Alan Maitland. He became very popular and remained a co-host of As It Happens from 1974 to 1993. To this day the CBC replays some of his best stories. The Gift of the Magi and The Shephard are often rebroadcast. Sometimes you can listen to them directly on the CBC web site, but that usually requires a flash player. Here is a You Tube link to the later story. It runs about 30 minutes but is well worth the listen. There are many great storytellers available to listen to these days, too numerous to list here. But, this fanboy will always regard Alan Maitland as the best.