The Joys of AM Radio

“I’d like to get me a old wore out beagle hound, if anybody out there’s got one. You know, one’s too old to run with the pack no more? And my telephone number is 794-4644. Thank you.”

“Well, now, hold on a minute there,” interrupts the announcer. What do you want an old worn out beagle hound for?”

“Well y’see, I’m a-tryin’ to raise up some new pups, an’ the young ‘uns’ll foller that old ‘un around an’ larn what they’s a-sposed to larn and not go runnin’ off after no wrong scents or start frolickin’ around-like. Them old ‘uns, they’ll stick to their business and teach them young ‘uns.”

There you have it, almost verbatim, another entry on “Trade Time” on our local AM radio station.

Trade Time normally gets rolling about 9:15, depending on how many obituaries have to be to read, with a short rendition of Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call.” It usually runs until about 10:00 or  so when Brother Jerry Powers of the Pine Creek Congregation takes over for a few minutes of prayer and preaching.

Shows like Trade Time were once common in every little country town. I used to hear them everywhere. But in all my travels I have not heard one in years. The preachers and right wing ranters seem to have taken over the AM airwaves, everywhere but here.

The callers on Trade Time are about evenly divided between blacks and whites, and the announcers know many of them by name. The informal rule is that if they succeed in selling something over the air they will bring in a homemade pie.

Everything I’m telling you is the absolute truth, and I can’t even begin to convey the variety and richness of this show. Just the accents of the callers are enough to restore your faith in small town living.

The leading items for sale are usually vehicles, and it is a rare occasion when the vehicle was manufactured after 1990, or the asking price exceeds $2,000. Comments include: “The transmission’s shot, but she’s got four new tars on ‘er”; or, “She’s got a lotta mals on ‘er, but she still runs good.” You never get the idea that the callers are exaggerating or dishonest: sometimes they’ll even back track a little and add, “Well she don’t actually run real good, but she’s a real fine buy”. One man called and said, “I got a right rear fender for a 1966 Chivallay pick-up, and I thought somebody might want it.  No charge.”

You’ll hear everything imaginable sold on Trade Time.  There’ll be livestock, farm equipment, old clothes, NASCAR memorabilia, guns, pets, you name it. The listings also reflect the nature of what is considered valuable and tasteful around here: a mobile home furnished in “wall to wall shag, in light green and brown,” with furniture made out of “real wood,” and an above ground pool in the back. Another woman had a couch for sale and said proudly, “Ain’t got no odors.” There was a woman selling a washer in “apricot green.” A man called in wanting to buy an invisible fence to keep his dogs in, and a little while later some wag called in and said, “I ain’t got no invisible fence, but I’ll be glad to sell that man some invisible fence posts– I’ll even throw in some invisible post holes too.”

Animals figure prominently on the show. People will sell off entire herds of cattle, and when the weather gets cold there will be hogs for the killing. Things are often sold in odd combinations: like a guy calling in and saying, “I got a chester drawers for sale, and a mess a goats.”  Goats are always a big item, and the sellers will describe long and complicated pedigrees for them. For some reason, mules are rarely offered– maybe because they’re too valuable– but horses show up from time to time. One man called to sell a goat and said it was a “pigmy goat”; the announcer asked what kind of disposition the goat had (since pigmies tend to be mean) and the man said, “Well, he’s about a year old now, and I’d have to say it’s gettin’ worse. You see, he’s growin’ up and he needs to go off somewhere and get married”; and the announcer said, “Maybe he’s just tired of all the other goats calling him ‘Shorty’.”

Chickens are a big item. People say chickens are “just good to have around” for eating ticks and other vermin, and some people have big plans for starting hatcheries. But a lady called in last week and said she was looking for some laying hens and then said: “You see I was watchin’ on the TV here about ‘Feed the Chirrun’ and it showed them poor little chirrun over in Africa or somewheres what don’t have enough to eat, and I just thought if I could get me some hens I could get some aigs and send them to that thing on the TV.”  God bless her, I wished I could have put my arm around that woman and taken her over to Africa and put her in charge of the whole deal– Don Quixote with an armful of hens.

Of course, in the middle of all this, there are home-made commercials. They have the 9:30 whistle blast heralding break time at the knitting mill, and they have live interviews with Leon at the Co-op and Bill at the Farm Store and Claudine at Poynor’s Tractor Repair. Best of all, they ring the bell and read the “dinner” menu for the day at Martha’s Dinner Bell—- usually fried chicken, chicken fried steak, breaded pork chops, fried okra, fried squash, fried pickles, fried fruit salad (no, I’m just kidding), and potatoes and corn muffins and a whole raft of cakes and pies for dessert. After reporting the menu the announcer pauses and exclaims, “Yum, yum!”

Many of the listings tell a story. You’ll hear somebody selling off his whole herd or all of his farm equipment, and you can tell from his voice that he’s just too old and tired to keep farming. Or you’ll hear some young woman with barely suppressed anger selling a bass boat and a 280Z and a set of barbells, which sounds like the residue of a recent or imminent divorce. Perhaps the saddest are the cases of old people selling off their spouses’ clothes after he or she has died. As in every case, the announcers are always considerate and respectful.

People call and then can’t remember their telephone numbers. One guy called wanting to rent a mobile home and didn’t have a telephone at all. And you’ll hear people shouting in the background trying to tell the person on the phone what to say: “What was it you said …?”– “A 350 overhead cam.”– “A what?!”– (voice rising) “A 350 overhead cam, woman!”– “Well then, here, you talk to ‘im,” slamming the phone down.

And, of course, the announcers are always having to tell people to turn down their radios so as not to mess up the telephone connection. But one time, it turned out that a lady’s hearing aid was causing feedback, so the announcer told her to turn it off, and then he said, “OK, now what can we do for you?” And she said, “WHAT?” and the announcer said “WHAT CAN WE DO FOR YOU?!”  “WHAT?????” she says, and that’s where I got to laughing so hard I couldn’t listen anymore.

And that ain’t the half of it.


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