I am writing this before I go on a stage, about to speak into a microphone and tell a story over radio airwaves. I only have eleven minutes. My story is a simple one. There are jokes embedded within it. Jokes I hope people laugh at.
I am not nervous—which is somewhat of a miracle. I used to get nervous a lot. I used to get so nervous that I talked like Porky Pig on a blind date. But I’m calm.
They tell me this station’s audience is small. Only two radios will actually tune into this AM station on a weeknight. The sound engineer, and the sound engineer’s mother. The signal isn’t strong. But it does reach the interstate.
I’m excited nonetheless.
After all, you never know who will be listening. Maybe a man in an eighteen-wheeler will be overcome by unexplained inclinations to turn on his radio. And MAYBE, as if by urgings of unseen forces, he’ll turn his dial to a weak-signaled AM station. And MAYBE, by miracle, he will have reception for ninety seconds and hear me say:
“Hi everybody, I’m Sean Di—”
“…And I just wanted to say from the bottom of my heart th—”
“…Our guest has been Sean Dietrich.”
I don’t just like radio. I love it.
In fact, if you would’ve met me when I was a young boy, making mud pies in the backyard, you would’ve known that I already had a career in radio.
I had an old condenser microphone my father bought at a garage sale. It was broken, but I used it for make believe.
Back then, I would report on weather, school kickball, and deliver updates on the happenings within Miss Welch’s socially stratified first-grade class.
I was, for instance, the first broadcaster to break the news of the scandal that rocked the elementary school—involving the high-society couple, Joey and Katie.
Joey allegedly “fell” off the monkey bars after Katie caught him giving part of his Baby Ruth candybar to her cousin, Lynette. I smelled foul play.
I interviewed Katie on the matter, she made no comments except, and I quote: “Joey has butt breath.”
The truth is, my earliest memory is of a radio. I sat on my father’s lap, watching the orange lights on his Philco machine. It rested on a shelf in his workshed.
Keith Bilbrey was announcing for the Grand Ole Opry. There was music, laughter, the tinny voice of Minnie Pearl, steel guitars. And my father loved me back then. I’ve always associated this warm feeling with the Opry.
Years later, my father took me to see the Opry. He got off work early, we drove two hours toward the biggest auditorium I’d ever seen. It was magic. The cowboy hats, the twin fiddles. Minnie.
I told my father that night, “That looks like fun. I wanna do that.”
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he got someone’s autograph. I don’t even know who the signature belonged to—I couldn’t read it. But I kept the slip of paper for years. It reminded me of the greatest night of my life.
When Daddy passed, I tore that paper and threw it into the trash. And I quit listening to the Opry.
Life moves so quickly. One day you’re a child playing radio. The next day, you wake up and you’re an adult with a back surgery underneath your belt and a string of failures to go with it.
Some days, you have the adult blues, and you start to think that life is against you. And in a way, you’re right. Sort of.
Because life can be ugly, and hard, and sour, and dry, and unkind, and unforgiving. And just when you think it can’t get any more difficult, it kills someone you love.
But then. Something happens to you that changes your mind. You’re not sure how it happened. But it starts small, then grows. Something makes you see how wrong you were about life.
You realize you matter. And you realize that the entirety of the pea-picking universe cares about you. It cares so much that it makes a sunrise for you every morning to prove it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is:
Thank you. Thank you for being in my life. May I be truly grateful for every second of it. Good and bad. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a radio.
Maybe that truck driver is listening.