The Radio Guys

I am listening to the radio. The DJ tonight is a 93-year-old elderly man with a feeble voice. He is introducing the songs of Frank, Ella, Bing, Nat, and Lawrence.

I turn it up.

This is a pirate radio station. Until a few minutes ago, I didn’t know anything about pirate radio. I looked it up. Wikipedia says pirate radio is any station that broadcasts without a valid license. Meaning: I still don’t know what the heck it means.

All I know is that I’ve been listening to radio gold for a few hours. I’ve heard such giants as Elvis, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, the Beach Boys, and of course Frankie Yankovic playing his American masterstroke, the “Hoop Dee Doo Polka.”

This radio station is called Radio Recliner. It is available on the internet. The station is disc-jockeyed by elderly people who are quarantined in assisted living facilities around the country.

In other words, the old people call the shots. They choose the songs, announce them, and talk to listeners using cellphone microphones from the safety of their own rooms.

Radio Recliner was started by an Atlanta and Birmingham-based marketing firm who thought it would be great to let elderly people have their own radio station during a pandemic. This station has become so popular that every hopeless sentimental from here to Timbuktu is tuning in. Like me.

Tonight’s DJ tells his audience a little about himself between songs:

“Hi ya, I’m 93 years old, and I’m feeling good tonight…”

A song begins to play. “In the Mood,” by Glenn Miller. The song is so peppy that I am bouncing in my seat while I write this column.

The music ends. The elderly voice comes on again, this time to tell a story.

“I was in World War II,” he says. “I was 18 years old and foolish, the war certainly made me grow up in a hurry… There was this one time I stole pies from our Navy ship kitchen, I was lucky I didn’t get caught…”

This is followed by muted trumpets, licorice-stick clarinets, slide trombones, and the other melodies of World War II.

As it happens, I’ve been talking to elderly people in nursing homes this week by phone, asking them how it feels to be isolated.

“It’s horrible,” says one 88-year-old in an Atlanta facility. “Young people might think they’re lonely in this virus thing, but you’ve never known lonely until you’re an old lady.”

“It’s a nightmare,” said a 76-year-old man I spoke with in Louisiana. “Except for the gal who delivers my groceries, I haven’t looked another human in the eyes. It’s like living on a cruise ship, or being in a jail.”

Another man tells me he eats mostly microwaved frozen food and plays checkers with himself all day.

Well, that’s where Radio Recliner radio station comes in. Elderly people are sticking together by broadcasting their favorite music to each other. And even though this station is—technically—illegal, it’s connecting people. Any senior citizen can sign up to be a DJ. Anyone can listen. Even saps like me.

The upbeat song ends.

The DJ’s shaky voice says, “I’d like to attribute my 93 years of longevity to my wife, who took care of me all these years, swing music was special to her. I miss her so much, I wish I could hold her close again…”

A Sinatra dance number plays. I’m tapping my foot.

This week, I interviewed a 90-year-old in Tampa. “Yeah, I’ve been a little depressed,” she said. “We’re not allowed to leave the building, we go outside sometimes, but…” A sniffle. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cry for your interview, sir.”

Another man from a facility in Ohio: “For Memorial Day, we got daiquiris delivered to our rooms. We were only allowed one daiquiri apiece. Hell, I coulda used a LOT more than ONE puny daiquiri, I coulda used a case of Schlitz.”

Schlitz.

The DJ announces the next song. “I’ll Never Smile Again.” It’s gentle, it’s easy. I’m closing my eyes. In a small way, I’m right there with my host. I’m in his hearth, listening, remembering. And maybe I’m feeling a little of the loneliness he feels. Through music.

When the last chorus ends, the DJ says, “I have two children, I’d like to dedicate this next song to my kids and grandkids, who I can’t see…”

The song is “I Cried For You,” by Ella Fitzgerald.

Sadly, the old man’s radio show is coming to an end and he’s bidding goodnight to his listeners. He thanks us for tuning in. He leaves us with parting words before signing off.

I turn it up as loud as it will go.

“Friends, don’t put off until tomorrow doing something you wanna do today. Just do it, ‘cause you never know if tomorrow will come.”

It’s an average Tuesday night. I’m seated in my den, listening to American music, and the voice of an elder. This has been one of the best nights of my last two months. My DJ delivers his final capper for the evening:

“I was born and raised in New York, the Bronx. I was married for 66 years, that might be some sorta record, I dunno… My wife passed away, and I miss her tremendously. Her name was Ailene, and I’d like to dedicate this song to my Ailene.”

The tune is: “I’ll Be Seeing You.” My speaker is practically leaking from Bing Crosby’s voice. And so are my eyes.

This is Sean Dietrich, signing off.

39 comments

  1. Jan - May 27, 2020 10:42 am

    What a wonderful idea – wish there could be more ways for older people to connect an share their memories. You are doing something awesome by interviewing and sharing your great finds! Thank you!

    Reply
  2. ponder304 - May 27, 2020 10:58 am

    The best one ever….My heart is so full….think I will go peck on a nursing home window today…..

    Reply
  3. Beth Ann Chiles - May 27, 2020 10:59 am

    Now they are going to get a ton of new fans which is great! Thanks for sharing – had not heard of this and it will be my new favorite thing to listen to, I bet. I love it.

    Reply
  4. Jay Southerland - May 27, 2020 10:59 am

    Dang, Sean, that was awesome. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  5. Bill - May 27, 2020 11:20 am

    Sean, that was a great one, especially for us “older folks”. We can relate so well to all the scenes you painted. I love the concept of heteroclite radio. See, use the “word of the day” as well.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Harmon - May 27, 2020 11:36 am

    You are particularly gifted at getting my eyes to start leaking. In fact I can barely see the keyboard.

    Reply
  7. Cathi Russell - May 27, 2020 12:00 pm

    Another good one!

    Reply
  8. Leah - May 27, 2020 12:01 pm

    You make me cry nearly every morning. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Dru Brown - May 27, 2020 12:18 pm

    Sean, this is priceless. My dad would have been 95 a few days back. I wonder if he ever raided the kitchen on his Navy ship . . . .

    Reply
  10. dkbfox - May 27, 2020 12:21 pm

    My eyes were leaking reading your post. I’m 70, and I guess to many that sounds old, but I can still hear songs like “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and “I feel the Earth Move” by Carole King in my head. Rock On, everyone, rock on.

    Reply
  11. Linda - May 27, 2020 12:38 pm

    Thank you for this column today…..

    Reply
  12. Sharon Brock - May 27, 2020 12:41 pm

    Where can you receive this station? I would like to listen.

    Reply
  13. Sharon Brock - May 27, 2020 12:43 pm

    I love this music Sean. What a wonderful idea. How can the rest of us listen?

    Reply
  14. Connie Ryland - May 27, 2020 12:50 pm

    Dang it Sean. You make my eyes leak. Thank you for appreciating everyone. You celebrate the elderly and the women in your life with equal parts love and sincerity and respect. As a (fairly) old lady, I appreciate you. Sending love and hugs to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  15. Donna J. Masmar - May 27, 2020 12:53 pm

    Love remembering those great “oldies”. Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa in a house across the street from my relatives. They don’t make music like that more but guess that shows I am an “oldie” also.

    Reply
  16. Margaret Angell - May 27, 2020 1:07 pm

    What a touching story, Sean. My husband was in radio all his life and those were the songs he played in the sixties. What a shame that young folks today have no appreciation for Music like that. Thanks for the memories, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Phil S. - May 27, 2020 1:25 pm

    Wow! Got my attention. I’m tuning in tonight. Made me remember The Wolfman”. Now, where did I put that blasted transistor radio? Oh, well, guess I’ll have to use the silly internet, which we all know is just one of those passing fads like microwave ovens.

    Reply
  18. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 27, 2020 1:34 pm

    A beautiful story. My parents would’ve been 95, and this was their music. I remember watching Lawrence Welk (Mr. Bubbles, I called him) on Saturday nights with them. That generation was truly the greatest generation in so many ways. We have so much to learn from them.

    Reply
  19. Pat - May 27, 2020 2:11 pm

    okay – best human interest story ever!! BRAVO Radio Recliners 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

    Reply
  20. Bobbie - May 27, 2020 2:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be tuning in. God bless these older folks, of which I am one. And God bless you for your caring heart. Have often wished we could just sit down and talk. Such stories we could share! Love you❤️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

    Reply
  21. Donna - May 27, 2020 2:22 pm

    How about a Link? Add mine to previous requests asking how to listen; would also like to share w/ my elderly parents too.

    Reply
  22. Keloth Anne - May 27, 2020 2:31 pm

    This is just incredible and so very timely ♥️
    Loneliness is a tough place to be—looking forward to checking out the radio stations 🎶🥰

    Reply
  23. Sean Dietrich - May 27, 2020 2:32 pm

    Here’s the link to the Radio Recliner radio station for anyone who is interested:

    https://radiorecliner.com/index.html

    Reply
  24. Marge - May 27, 2020 2:32 pm

    Tears are running down my cheeks and then…a chuckle when Schlitz was mentioned). I am an “old” woman, isolating alone in my townhome. Not fun at all but that radio station might change things up! Thanks for doing what you do, Sean! ❤️

    Reply
  25. Marge - May 27, 2020 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much Sean!!!😊🤗

    Reply
  26. Debbie - May 27, 2020 3:46 pm

    This story really touched my heart! Going to try and find this station❤️

    Reply
  27. Gordon - May 27, 2020 4:08 pm

    WOW! This was a really, really good one, Sean. Thanks for your words; thanks for making your readers aware of this outstanding “ministry”.

    Reply
  28. JAMES W NEAREN JR - May 27, 2020 4:12 pm

    Schlitz, heck yeah. AND, Country Club Malt Liquor!

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - May 27, 2020 4:24 pm

    This morning I heard on the local TV News that a turtle got hit by a car and then slung into another car’s windshield….halfway inside with his/her posterior half hanging still outside. And lived to tell about it! I wish Harold had been so fortunate. Local TV and Pirate Radio where people call the shots make me feel good. Stories from World War II survivors do, too. I’ll find that Pirate Station and listen while I’m reclining somewhere. Errol Flynn has nothing on these guys!

    Reply
  30. MAM - May 27, 2020 5:01 pm

    As an almost old lady, at 77, I can relate to these songs, too. Thanks, Sean. And for the always leaking eyes after reading your wonderful writing that brings back wonderful memories to all of us. I still do a digital news”paper,” which keeps me BUSY, but I’ll try to find reclining time to listen to these oldies and goodies. Oh, yes, my newspaper IS legal, but I may be a heteroclite, which according to one definition is a person who is unconventional; a maverick. 🙂

    Reply
  31. Charles - May 27, 2020 6:11 pm

    wow is overused, so I’ll use AWESOME! What a great cause and effort, and music and memories. Thank you Sean

    Reply
  32. Katie G. - May 27, 2020 7:47 pm

    Tune in at https://radiorecliner.com/

    Reply
  33. Patricia Gibson - May 27, 2020 10:13 pm

    A good one❤️❤️

    Reply
  34. Jones - May 28, 2020 12:20 am

    Thanks for sharing such great stories and info about the radio station! I’ve enjoyed listening—it’s been awhile since I’ve heard 76 Trombones and Beer Barrel Polka! You have a gift for seeing, hearing, and writing about the good… thank you!

    Reply
  35. kelley Carter - May 28, 2020 12:36 am

    happy World redhead day today and in Nov also

    Reply
  36. Nancy M - May 28, 2020 3:55 am

    It was wonderful reading about these men and their radio station. I will look it up! Thanks for the link.
    All these stories are precious, got my eyes leaking a little, too.

    Reply
  37. Ann - May 28, 2020 3:55 pm

    Beautiful….🥰
    You have the big heart for this!

    Reply
  38. Jon Dragonfly - May 29, 2020 3:33 am

    I have listened to nothing but Radio Recliner for the last two days. Thanks, Sean!

    Reply
  39. Kathy - July 5, 2020 8:19 pm

    So now I’m squalling. My mother-in-law is in a nursing home and we haven’t seen her (except through the window) since March 13.

    Reply

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