Turn the Radio On

OXFORD—I was initially nervous about being on Mississippi Public Radio, but my wife kept reminding me that I have the perfect face for radio. So here we are.

Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is a live variety show with music, singing, literature, fun, and Arnie the Magic Chicken who can tell your fortune by lifting his tail feathers and dropping “chicken magic” onto giant bingo cards.

No, I’m only kidding about Arnie the Chicken. Though I wish I weren’t because even a chicken could do a better job on the radio than I can.

Tonight I am in a “time slot.” This is an industry term. A time slot is basically the same as being interrogated by military intelligence personnel while on the air. You speak only when spoken to, give direct answers, and if you talk longer than allotted the stagehands drag you into the alleyway where you are assaulted by a gang of fortune-telling chickens and their ringleader, Arnie.

I am reminded often that I must be BRIEF on the air. But the thing is, I am never brief, I am the opposite of brief. I am boxer shorts.

During sound check the stage manager with the clipboard is walking me through how things will go. She is extremely clear about this long winded business. She says, “When I hold up three fingers, you’d better be wrapping up, or else.”

“Or else what?” I ask.

“See that red smear on the floor? That was last week’s speaker, he went sixty seconds over.”

Anyway, what I like about Oxford is the relaxed vibe. It’s like many college towns. Ninety percent of the people on the sidewalks are young, energetic, and have no joint pain. These are known as students. The rest of the town population looks like the cast of the 1985 movie “Cocoon.” These are college faculty members.

Rumor has it that most University of Mississippi faculty members looked very young when they started working here. They aged rapidly after only one semester of dealing with stressful kids who are notoriously hard to handle because they all refuse to—even when professors hold loaded chickens to their heads—look at a syllabus.

A local band is opening the radio hour tonight. The musicians are running through a quick rehearsal. They play familiar songs. Their music is a mixture of soul, funk, rock, and an aviation nuclear strike. But they are a great band from what I can hear through the jets of blood leaking from my eardrums.

Ten minutes until showtime.

I slip backstage to use the bathroom. Also, I’m thirsty, so I’m looking for water. I see a two-gallon Mason jar with a spigot. The jar is filled with—this is true—what I mistakenly believe to be water. I fill a cup with this clear stuff. I take a large swallow and my throat is on fire.

This is definitely not water. This stuff is a highly flammable fluid that could power commercial agriculture equipment.

I am coughing, gasping, wheezing, and my head is starting to swim.

One of the college-age stagehands laughs. “Dude, that’s our SPECIAL water.”

Another stagehand raises his SOLO cup. “Welcome to Oxford, bruh.”

Then they high-five each other and openly set fire to a school syllabus.

When the show starts, the host reads announcements. The audience is applauding. I’m sitting in the front row feeling absolutely no pain. My wife sniffs my breath. “What’s that smell?” she says.

“Smell?” I say. “I don’t (hiccup) smell anything.”

While I’m waiting for my time slot, I am gazing around the room, smiling. And it dawns on me that most of the people on this show are basically children. The stagehands are barely old enough to shave. God, I feel old.

You know, sometimes I can’t believe I actually made it to adulthood alive. It’s a miracle, really. When I was a kid, all I ever wanted was to make it past the Festering Zit Stage into the grown-up years. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy growing up that much. Sure, there were pieces of childhood I liked. But all in all, I don’t know if I would buy another ticket to do it again.

The hard part about growing up is transitioning into a non-kid. Life smacks you around and you get tougher whether you want to or not. People cheat you, some folks climb over you, and others make you cynical.

But here in this room, surrounded by all these happy kids, I’m realizing that growing up wasn’t all bad. Because along the way you meet people who love you. Who stand behind you. Who remind you that no matter how ugly you feel, you have the perfect face for radio. These people make you a better person.

So the host asks me a few questions and I start to get a little long winded until the lady with the clipboard gives me the Look of Death. She holds up three fingers. This is my cue to either shut up or become a skidmark.

When the show ends, the band plays “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Which happens to be my favorite song. The audience sings along and a lady in the back stands and starts twirling in circles. There’s a Pentecostal in every bunch. Almost everyone, both young and old, is singing. I’m singing. My wife is hugging me. Happiness comes out my eyes and rolls onto my cheeks. All that’s missing is Arnie the Magic Chicken.

I’m on the radio, Mama.

Someone get me some more of that fancy water.

22 comments

  1. Lita - March 7, 2020 10:15 am

    Great post to start the weekend: mug of tea and catching up with you and Jamie. Thank you, Sean. Have a good weekend yourselves.

    Reply
  2. oldlibrariansshelf - March 7, 2020 10:17 am

    When I was a teen growing up near Nashville my younger sis and I listened to the Alan and Allen radio show every morning while getting ready for school. We enjoyed them so much that we sometimes would ride the Trailways bus into the city, take the elevator to their station office in the L & C Tower and take them a homemade cake! Good radio is good for your heart. I’m glad you enjoyed your experience.

    Reply
  3. turtlekid - March 7, 2020 12:25 pm

    Don’t listen to the radio, or watch tv, so I live a contented life. No negativity from political ads, no reminders of mayhem and murder everywhere; although there do seem to be some positive points to knowing what goes on around the planet. I get enough of it on Facebook, but can scroll past the unpleasant stuff. There is nothing I can do about anything anyway!!! Your blog is something enjoy, as well as your books. We all need SMILES, and you provide plenty. Keep on keeping on Sean Paul, you are a blessing!

    Reply
  4. Lisa Martin - March 7, 2020 12:37 pm

    You did not disappoint us in Oxford! You were as entertaining, charming and kind in person as you are in your writings. My only disappointment was that I didn’t meet Jamie. Come back and see us!

    Reply
  5. Greyn - March 7, 2020 1:08 pm

    First 40 years of childhood the hardest. Oxford is a lovely place.

    Reply
  6. agracefilledhome77 - March 7, 2020 1:09 pm

    This is so good! I love you and Jamie so much! Y’all enjoy this season together and every season.

    Reply
  7. Berryman Mary M - March 7, 2020 1:15 pm

    Made me laugh out loud! Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  8. Marcia Lynn MacLean - March 7, 2020 2:14 pm

    Hotty Toddy Sean! Congratulations on another major accomplishment.

    Reply
  9. Ray Wallace - March 7, 2020 2:17 pm

    Hotly toddy ! Love Oxford and Thacker Mountain ! Wish I had been there !

    Reply
  10. aleathia nicholson - March 7, 2020 3:24 pm

    I grew up listening to Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks on the Charlotte NC TV station…have I mentioned this before now?

    Reply
  11. that is jack - March 7, 2020 3:32 pm

    I smiled thinking of my older brother around a camp fire………. He was beating his guitar while sipping from a pint jar of water………

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - March 7, 2020 4:29 pm

    Us people out here in Radio-land or Podcast-land would NEVER smack you around, Sean. The song, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” grew on this city girl. I came to LOVE it, along with the one who introduced me to it. He also introduced me to the original Blue Sky Boys’ “Turn Your Radio On”. My signed copy of “Will The “Circle Be Unbroken” book is loved, too. You have made your MAMA proud! Happiness is in my eyes right now and a big grin is on my face for you!

    Reply
  13. Melodie - March 7, 2020 4:51 pm

    Brilliant. I needed these smiles today. Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Lori - March 7, 2020 4:59 pm

    Great Sean – you drank the “water” now you will become a RebelBearLandShark. Sounds like you had a great time in Rebel land. Until next time youngin – Hail State!

    Reply
  15. Mike Bone - March 7, 2020 7:41 pm

    If you lived through that you will do GREAT on the Wildwood Flower Radio Hour!! KXLU is located at Loyola Marymount in LA…..a Jesuit School. The only “special” water we have is Holy water. Good for what ails you!

    Reply
  16. GaryD - March 7, 2020 9:16 pm

    I usually read your columns first thing in the morning but I’m late today. It’s a little after 4 in the afternoon and I’m sitting here in the sunshine with a cool breeze blowing. I’m amongst my small flock of chickens and laughing my fool head off. Thanks for the laughter, Sean. It feels good.

    Reply
  17. Rebecca Souders - March 7, 2020 10:44 pm

    I watched the show live on Facebook and enjoyed your part in it very much. Your wife is right… you have a great radio voice. I especially loved your ramblings on the piano! Your dad was right to make you get up and perform!

    Reply
  18. Becky Jackson - March 8, 2020 12:02 am

    Great story! And Sean, if you have made it to ‘Thacker Mountain Radio’ in Oxford, MS you are a ‘STAR’. I say this in spite of the fact that I am a fan of Mississippi STATE University. Now that you have been to Mississippi, you know how important this is.

    Reply
  19. Elaine - March 12, 2020 1:45 am

    Finally found my niche. I have the perfect face for radio🤣🤣

    Reply
  20. Bonida Kimbrough - June 11, 2021 4:24 am

    Only time I have been to Oxford was to see Arlo Guthrie at a little theatre a few years back. I do so like Thacker Mountain, first time I experienced it was when you were on there!!!

    Reply
    • Bonida Kimbrough - June 11, 2021 4:27 am

      I must admit I have lived in Mississippi since 1966 but don’t get up that way much, lol.

      Reply
  21. Donna - June 11, 2021 10:23 am

    I read your stories daily. Restores hope for humanity and laughter fills my heart!

    Reply

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