February 6, 2008

Bennett Discovers His Soulmate: Sports Radio

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I blame my mom.
Not for the 13 years of private violin lessons I took growing up (although I’m sure in no uncertain terms I’ve blamed her to her face many times), but for those violin tapes she put on at night while I was falling asleep.
I don’t know if it was New Age parenting (osmosis of information while sleeping), or if I simply refused to listen to them during the day like I was supposed to. I could give myself the benefit of the doubt, but it’s probably the latter. I mean, in my first few years of violin, I would sit on the floor during my lesson with my short arms stubbornly crossed and simply refuse to play (in my defense I was four).
I was trained in the Suzuki method, where you learn by moving through eight increasingly hard books of songs. Each book had a corresponding cassette tape, and part of my practice was supposed to include listening to the tape of the book I was currently working my way through a certain number of times each week. I hated practicing the violin, and I’m sure I hated those violin tapes even more.
But what I didn’t hate was listening to them as I fell asleep, and for that, I blame my mom. First it was just those violin tapes, but then I started pushing for her to play the original Winnie the Pooh stories I had on tape while I was falling asleep. And it was that willy, nilly, silly old bear that created a problem. If he wasn’t so tubby, chubby and all stuffed with fluff, I might just blame him instead. But I digress.
Eventually I outgrew bedtime stories and even my stuffed Winnie, Piglet and Eeyore.
But I still had that need for something to listen to at night.
Eventually, I found something that did so much more than that. I found a lifelong companion, a soulmate that would never leave me. I found sports talk radio.
To this day I cannot fall asleep comfortably without listening to sports radio. I wake up to sports radio. When I’m upset, sports radio calms me down. When I want to relax, sports radio soothes me. When I’m excited, sports radio pumps me up. If I could take sports radio out on a date, I just might.
It took me a while to realize that so much of my life revolved around sports radio. It was when I realized that I had asked for a shower radio for Christmas not once but twice, so I could have more alone time with sports radio.
Sports radio had become the T-1000 version of Winnie the Pooh. It baffled even me. I never recalled myself needing to listen to a cassette to fall asleep. But on nights when I had no access to sports radio, I legitimately had trouble falling asleep. My mind would whir; it would bounce around from one subject to another. It would worry, it would wonder, it would pontificate, it would berate me, it would philosophize, it would dictate the beginning of novels and movies to me, it would ask me why I had told the girl in front of me in class about the time I sat on my violin or why I had made that joke about storing hashish in my butt.
Sports radio gently pulled my mind away from the nut house and into a more organized world. It was better than music; I could tune out music. I couldn’t tune out sports radio. The late-night shows, unlike the early morning or afternoon rush-hour shows, had one host. It felt like a gentle conversation between friends, but a conversation I could end if I wanted to.
And of course there was great sports talk, particularly great Chicago sports talk. The Score, WSCR 670-AM in Chicago, was the all-sports radio station that I listened to like a group of pre-teen girls at a slumber party listens for footsteps after bedtime.
The Score was everything I wanted it to be. It had a rotation of mild-mannered late-night personalities, combined with an offbeat amalgamation of stereotypical Chicago style, quirky humor and actual analysis throughout the day. Oh, and if you have any connection to the 1985 Chicago Bears shufflin’ crew, you can have a job at The Score.
The morning show I grew up with was Murph and Fred. Murph, Mike Murphy, had been with the station since its inception in 1992 and was a former Chicago Cubs Bleacher Bum who talked like one (Da Bears, Da Bulls — that kind of thing). He took calls from “Score Heads” with names like Schmutzie and Wild Bill, and was accepting of their ranting theories and bad jokes. Fred Huebner was more serious and kept Murph focused on more serious analysis — except during the weekly “Tool of the Week” segment, of course, when they voted on who was the bigge­st tool in professional sports.
Murph and Fred got me out of bed better than anything else. Sports radio was the one thing that seemed attractive when I got out of bed in the morning. At night, The Score shut my mind down. In the morning, it got my mind going again. If I had to write an SAT analogy to describe my relationship to sports radio the given analogy would be Elvis : Pills, and the answer would be, c) Cory : Sports Radio.
Quick, think of an abstract concept stronger than love. That is what I feel about sports radio. It put up with me in the morning and soothed me to sleep at night.
I didn’t realize that one of the things I would miss the most when I came to school was The Score. Without good AM radio reception anywhere in Ithaca, I’ve resorted to various podcasts and internet radio feeds.
What hasn’t changed, though, is my dependence. I still need it to fall asleep and to get going in the morning. Sophomore year, I went through a rough patch and was particularly stressed out. I changed my class schedule so I could go home for three hours every afternoon and listen to the Dan Patrick Radio Show from 1-4 p.m. every afternoon. Perhaps more than anything else, it was my most comfortable outlet — my most therapeutic time.
So, maybe I shouldn’t be blaming my mom at all. I am starting to see that some day, I will probably have to wean myself off of the proverbial baby bottle that is sports radio, but for now, it still remains one of my closest companions. While I may be messed up for life, for now there’s nothing to do but say …
Thank you mom.