Listening like a tourist

When the family travels for vacations (this year's destination - the Tennessee side of the Smoky's... Dollywood, here I come!), I like to listen to locally programmed radio stations. I'm particularly happy if I can find some station playing regional music, music I wouldn't hear anywhere else in the country. F'rinstance, when we visited Virginia a few years ago, I listened to this station that had various programming slots dedicated to Mountain Music, old time gospel and the like. I loved it. Made me feel like I was really someplace different from my normal day to day life. Usually, there are only one or two stations like this in a given area. Everything else is the same old corporate-programmed stuff you get everywhere.

Well, a couple of days ago, I was scanning radio stations for some music, ANY MUSIC! that I hadn't heard 232 times already. I hit 104.9 -WTKM out of Hartford. They were deep into the morning drive time, playing a mix of local and national polka acts. Their news featured farm reports and a big story about the price of dried whey or somesuch - so you can pretty much visualize the target demographic. I loved it. It gave me a real sense of place. It's the other end of my equation. Part of the reason that every place seems the same as home is that we don't immerse ourselves in what's unique about our homes.

Coincidentally, WTKM also came up when I was in college in Oshkosh, well out of the WTKM broadcast region. My late Uncle Glenn, the family's dairy farmer, used to front a polka band up in Iron Ridge. I had a copy of one of their LPs (pick a copy up here for $10 plus S&H) which I liked to throw on the turntable now and then. It must have been the beginning of my Sophomore year. When I cranked up Glenn's happy polkas, the guy from next door stopped over, he wanted to know what I was playing. 'Glenn Moldenhauer', I replied. 'Oh, I thought I recognized it! They play this all the time on the radio station that my dad listens to in the barn.' What're the damn odds of my neighbor recognizing my Uncle's polka band? That really tells you something about where you are.

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