Year before I encountered Micahel Josephson’s Character Counts radio essays, one of my favorite things to hear on the radio was Charles Osgood‘s voice. From 1971 through 2017–a period of 46 years–Osgood hosted The Osgood Files, a daily radio commentary that ranged over everything from current events, to whatever happened to be on Osgood’s mind that day.
Search though I tried, I couldnt’ find a count of just how many radio essays Osgood created over that 46 year span. It has to be in the thousands. Every one that I heard seemed of the highest quality to me. And, they frequently rhymed.
It was because of this occasional meter to Osgood’s writing that he became known as CBS’s “poet in residence” and it is under that moniker that Charles Osgood, and his Osgood Files gave me the idea for my first published story. It was sometime in the mid-1990s, probably 1994 or 1995 and I was driving home from work through Topanga Canyon. It must have been spring or summer, since it was still light out. The skies were clear, and the traffic through the canyon wasn’t too bad. I was listening to KNX-1070 newsradio and at some point on my drive north, as I navigated the twists and turns of the canyon, The Osgood Files came on. Alas, I have no memory what the 3-minute radio essay was about. What I remember was that Charles Osgood closed his essay by reciting Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”
I’d never heard that poem before–poetry was always difficult for me. But that one got hold of me. It immediately reminded me the six-year old version of myself discovering a book on astronomy–The Nine Planets in the Franklin Township Public library, and how that book became a vital stepping stone for me into astronomy, science, and the importance of books to supplement my education. I remembered my initial difficulty, like the narrator in the poem, of trying to make sense of what I was reading in those astornomy books. But then, in the summer of 1978 or 1979, my parents got me a telescope, and when we set it up in the backyard, I could actually see the stars and planets. I knew exactly what Whitman meant in the last three lines of that poem. I’d felt it as a 7 year old.
I heard Osgood recite that poem just once, but it stuck with me. One day, years later, when noodling around for a story idea, Osgood’s voice was suddenly in my head reciting the first line of the poem, “When I heard the learn’d astronomer…” Although, in my head, that’s not quite what Osgood said. What he said was, “When I kissed the learn’d astronomer…” And from that, almost at once, an opening line was born:
When I kissed the learned astronomer, I never expected to fall in love, discover intelligent alien life in the universe, and end up in jail.
I had no idea what the rest of the story would be about, but from that opening, I wrote a novelette that I eventually sold to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine in late 2006. (The story appeared in July 2007.)
In the time since, I’ve continued to enjoy Osgood’s essays, and I’ve managed to read one of his books, See You On the Radio. But his influence on me was more than just the title and idea for my first published stories. He wrote short essays about whatever interested him and published them (through radio) every day. Today, this might be called a podcast, but it is the writing part that influenced me.
Like Andy Rooney’s TV spots at the end of 60 minutes and his newspaper columns and like Isaac Asimov and his prolific essays that appeared just about everywhere (I consider Asimov to be a proto-blogger), Charles Osgood’s radio essays have shaped my blog writing. Indeed, without Osgood, Rooney or Asimov, it is likely that I may never have tried my hand at blogging in the first place. And because of these writers, I still don’t think of these pieces so much as “posts” but as essays. The blog is simply the medium.
And yet… there is one more way that radio has influenced me right down to this very day. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you about this one tomorrow.
Written on March 21, 2022.
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