HOBOKEN, N.J. - Somewhere in the vast frontiers of Internet radio is a station that plays a selection that very closely resembles the Top 40 music that was played in Topeka on KTOP AM in the late '50s and early '60s. The station is K-LUV Oldies and you can find it in your iTunes program under Library -- Radio - Golden Oldies. I found it by just probing around the stations in the standard iTunes' listing. I zeroed in on it quickly as it gradually dawned on me that it was reproducing my adolescent radio experience in Topeka with remarkable verisimilitude.
I left Topeka in the '70s and have been living in Hoboken, New Jersey, for more than 20 years. Hoboken is right across the Hudson from Manhattan, and virtually all the New York City stations are within range, as well as some good stations on the Jersey side. New York has an oldies station, CBS FM. It's a good station, and it claims to have the widest listenership of all oldies stations. But the oldies music in New York is distinctly different from what we heard in Topeka when I was growing up. It's a different style, as distinctly different as the places themselves were during that period. In New York Top 40 played more urban doo wop, and less of the southwestern twang and rockabilly that we heard in Topeka.
Back in the '50s and '60s radio was still pretty regional. It was before FM and before a handful of corporations consolidated most of the radio stations in the country. Today radio, like the rest of culture, is much more homogenized, more globalized. Many communities are lucky to have a local radio station at all these days. Big corporations like Clear Channel buy up handfuls of stations and consolidate them, so several towns will get the same broadcast exactly and it's automated, with little sign of a human presence. They might as well be broadcasting an iPod with commercials programmed in. Forget about local news. If you have a local disaster there's no radio station to report it. And there's no local broadcast media to watch the politicians and keep them in line. But on the other hand, today you have Internet radio, which opens up a great treasure chest of radio from all over the world.
K-LUV claims to play music from 1955 to 1964. You never hear a Beatles song. But they don't strictly stick to that timef rame. I occasionally hear songs on K-LUV from as late as 1967. But the station maintains a pre-Beatles Midwestern Top 40 feel, and the nostalgic buzz is high voltage for a Topekan of baby boom vintage. I can put it on any time I want and I am instantly transported to my childhood in Topeka.
The station guarantees two Elvis tracks every hour, and it sticks to its promise and plays them together with some fanfare in an hourly Elvis showcase. There were many records that were big hits from coast to coast, but some songs were popular in one part of the country and not in another. I hear many songs on K-LUV that I can't remembering since I was in Topeka in the late '50s and '60s. Tonight I heard "Johnny Get Angry." That song transports me vividly to Boy Scout camp, Camp Jayhawk. I hear that song and I am back there on a sweltering summer day, my axe in hand as I pitch my tent. I hear the Coasters singing "Yakety Yak" and I'm walking down 26th Street on my way to Shunganunga Creek for a day imagining myself as Tom Sawyer or Tarzan. Then it's "Finger Poppin' Time", "Willie and the Hand Jive", "Sugar Shack", "Bye Bye Love," "Sealed with a Kiss", "Devil or Angel" ... ad infinitum. Each one takes me to a specific place and time.
The station hails from Dallas, which puts it quite close to Topeka on the radio landscape of the '50s and '60s. We were far from New York and Los Angeles, but we were close to Dallas, and Chicago and our Top 40 was influenced by other radio markets in the region. There was a national music industry, but it varied region to region, much more than today. Chicago had Chess records and St. Louis' Chuck Berry. Detroit had Motown. Memphis had Sun Records and later Stax. Texas had Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. California had surf music. There were different flavors of music in the different communities, and radio was a clearing house for them, a medium of cultural transference across the country.
K-LUV has a local broadcast too, which you can also find in iTunes, but they are different. The broadcast doesn't have the same vintage music that will transport you back to late '50s Topeka. You may like it better. In fact, you may find any number of stations on that listing that suit you better, in various categories of music far beyond the oldies category. But if you're a Topeka baby boomer, you can get quite a jolt of nostalgia on K-LUV. It's really worth checking out just for the experience.