Invisible Airwaves

By Mark Reamer

We all make associations. It’s one of the principle ways that we as human beings make sense of the world around us and directs us to properly interact with it. One sight, sound, smell or even touch can spark familiarity. We call it nostalgia if it’s pleasant; trauma if not.

If any of us would care to admit it or not these associations play an incredibly prominent role in agriculture. It is not necessarily nostalgia. Nostalgia somehow implies an unreasonable attachment to the past. Many of us may feel nostalgia on a regular basis, but I fear it has far more to do with age than Ag.

I’m not sure where the line is drawn between enjoying fond memories and dwelling in the past. I suspect it depends on whether your primary focus is on the past or on the future. Personally, I wouldn’t say that wearing a cowboy hat and boots is focusing on the past, particularly if it’s simply a part of your business. If you’re attending to business, it is inherent that you are focusing on the future. The sixty something year old with the long gray ponytail who consistently wears a Led Zepplin t-shirt is another story I would suspect. That’s probably how I would break it down anyway, but I’m no expert, especially not in the field of psychology which I tend to regard as little more than astrology in a shiny, new package. That’s just me though.

As I’m writing this I’ve got a baseball game on the radio in the background. I’ve been a KC Royals fan since ‘69 when they were first formed. They’re actually doing really well this year. They never have been much of a cool weather team; usually making their fans slog through a thoroughly disheartening Spring before coming alive sometime after the All-Star break.

I always listen to the games on the radio. The best way to experience the games is at the stadium of course, but I’ve never been in a position to do that on a regular basis. Even if I had fewer responsibilities and more time, the stadium is still over 100 miles away. There are countless ways to watch a televised game nowadays. Cable and satellite services always have sports packages. MLB even has an app that you can download on your phone and watch the games live there. I don’t though. I still listen to the radio.It’s how I experienced baseball as a boy.

Our big tractors (IH1066) had cabs and each had a radio inside. Baseball season is just getting going when it’s time to get the fields disced before planting. They tend to play a lot of day games early in the year as well to cut down on strains and injuries due to the cooler evening temperatures. As discing the fields was one of my jobs as a boy, ( since it’s something really hard to significantly mess up, regardless of the time that that darn power pole was standing right in the middle of the field; . . . but that’s another story) I covered many, many acres while listening to the exploits of George Brett, Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Freddy Patek, and Frank White among others.

There were two major jobs to be done during the heat of the summer; hoeing beans and throwing hay. Roundup hadn’t been invented yet. This younger generation of farmers doesn’t know the joy of walking a quarter of a mile back to the truck with a torn up shoe after nearly taking off a toe or two with a corn knife. (If you’re too young to remember, you had to carry a corn knife or machete on your hip for the weeds that were too big or tough for the hoe to take down. Sometimes your foot would get in the way. It’s why you wore tough leather boots, not sneakers or crocs.) I would always have a pocket transistor radio in my back pocket while walking the rows. When haying we always had the truck radio blaring, except the ‘53 which didn’t have one. We always made sure we had a portable when using that one.

During harvest, the radios were on while waiting for the combine to fill the grain beds before leaving for the elevator. Suppers were eaten in the field sitting on buckets or in folding chairs with the tailgate of the pickup serving as a buffet table. The baseball season was driving down the stretch and again the games were on the radio.

We didn’t work all the time of course (though I often remember it that way). There were plenty of evenings for relaxation. What we didn’t have was air conditioning. I can hardly remember being inside on a summer evening. There was a big shade tree out in the yard and we would sit in its shade; you guessed it, listening to the games on the radio.

There was a radio in the farrowing shed. It was always set to a music station though to calm the sows. There were many long nights spent down there throughout the winter when multiple sows were farrowing at once. The low sound of country music was always softly heard in the background.

Radio is still my favorite medium. It doesn’t tether you the way television or video games do. You have to pay attention to a television show to follow the story. Video games are even worse, you have to interact with what you see on the screen. Both demand commitment. Radio is unobtrusive. It’s simply there. Whether you’re riding a tractor, throwing hay, hoeing a long row, or simply enjoying a gentle evening breeze, the sounds of radio permeate to be attended to or temporarily ignored as the situation demands.

Whether listening to a baseball game, music, or the Ag futures, the sounds of radio are as much associated with farming and agriculture in my mind as the smell of cattle or diesel, or the feel of tilled earth beneath my feet. How many miles have you driven to the sale barn or the next Rodeo with the radio as your constant companion for the trip?

I don’t have any stats to back me up on this, but I strongly suspect that rural people, specifically those involved in Ag spend a lot more time with the radio on in the background than those who live in a more urban environment. We tackle our work and live our lives in a more mobile manner than they. You can’t play an online MMO while driving a tractor. I probably wouldn’t even advise it with the new self-driving rigs. The radio though was made for just that; enlivening and connecting tractors, grain trucks, pick-ups, and combines with information and entertainment carried to each over invisible airwaves playing its unique role in creating a complex and distinct culture as rich and textured as any that has ever been; the American Rural Culture.

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