We’ve listened to a lot of radio in the nearly 6000 miles we’ve covered so far, typically alternating between small-town NPR on the left end of the dial and small-town country music stations on the right. The emptier the country, the more interesting the seek-button results. Because every station goes fluttery within half an hour at best, there are no keepers, but here are a few high points from our catch-and-release airwave trawling:
- Driving across northern Nebraska with a signal from the Rosebud Indian Reservation across the border in South Dakota. The young lady behind the microphone read a surprisingly long listing of all job openings in the immediate area and then, to open the daily “Birthday Show,” announced the names of everyone celebrating a birthday on that particular day. The first birthday song request, from a grandfather to his grandson, was the theme of SpongeBob SquarePants as sung by a Blackfoot Indian powwow drum group. The boys were both fast asleep in the car at the time and missed it.
- In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, I heard “Electric Avenue” for the first time since perhaps 1983 on a station that played wall-to-wall reggae music seemingly without commercial interruption or commentary or station identification of any sort. Whitehorse also had a Caribbean eatery. I reckon the idea of the tropics has a powerful hold on the imaginations of those who live in this part of the world—three days later in Fairbanks we came across a twenty-piece community steel drum band (players ranged from preteen to septuagenarian) jamming away in the downtown riverside plaza.
- Local public radio in Haines, Alaska, treated us to an involved and entertaining local crime story from Skagway about two Canadian men caught trying to smuggle marijuana over the border in the tool box behind the cab of their pick-up truck. When the news report was finished, another voice came on to let us know we had just heard a re-broadcast story from 12 years ago in their “News from the Past” segment. I guess little enough happens in Haines (and I mean that in the best possible way) that a recycled narrative of a decade-old drug bust can still retain some novelty.
But our best (semi)serendipitous listening experience didn’t come over the airwaves at all. In one of the Yellowstone visitor centers I impulse-purchased an audio copy of Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage (about the Lewis and Clark Expedition), which proved to be the best-possible companion for our drive north towards Great Falls. To a surprising degree, the boys were swept up by the narration. Too bad I hadn’t thought about audio books before we left . . . right now we should be listening to John Muir’s Travels in Alaska as we island-hop our way southward.