Tag: radio

“See You On the Radio”

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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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Character Counts Commentaries

two people shaking their hands
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Between 1994 and 2002, while living in Studio City, California, I commuted every weekday to Santa Monica, a drive of about 20 miles. I had not yet discovered audiobooks and the countless hours of these commutes were spent listening to various local radio stations. I frequently listened to KNX-1070, a news radio station. This was not talk radio, but round-the-clock news. In between the top news, local news, traffic and weather (together!) reports were short segments on a variety of topics. One of my favorites was Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” radio essays.

Josephson has an impressive background, very little of which I knew about when I listened to these radio essays. These essays ran on KNX-1070 from 1996 to 2015 when it was dropped. In the six years that I listened to them, I loved them. They provided practical, pragmatic ethics advice that I took seriously at the time, and that I still take seriously today. The radio essays used to be archived online but, sadly, I couldn’t find them anymore.

It seemed to me at the time–and even more today–that these lessons are not taught in schools in any systematic way. Indeed, from what I see of my kids’ schools, this may be deliberate. Kids are taught to pass a test, and the importance of these tests and the grades they produced are such that they seem to encourage unethical behavior instead of real learning.

I remember listening to those radio commentaries that centered around the six pillars of characters–trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship–and figuring out how to apply them in my life. I was not always successful (and that is true today, as well), but I always try. Those pillars provide a standard to live up to, and the essays provided practical examples of situations in which they might occur.

One of my takeaways from these radio essays was that small things mattered as much as big ones. Many discussions of ethics center around big issues or edge cases. But the character counts essays frequently talked about integrity–a wholeness of characters, acting the same way in different situations. Or as I sometimes think of it, not acting differently when nobody is watching. My grandfather used to go around saying that 99% of people were good people. I idolized my grandfather and was (and am) loathe do disagree with him. But experience has modified my perception of my grandfather’s statement. Today I think of it as 99% of people are good people — when someone else is watching.

That’s why little things matter to me and it is these little things in which I see ethical breakdowns more and more. I see people running stop signs in the neighborhood when no other cars are around. I see people leaving shopping carts in the middle of a parking lot instead of returning them to their proper location. These are little things, but they matter because they form a slippery slope to bigger things.

I wish the Character Counts radio essays were still available online somewhere. I think they’d be great little segments to play before sitting down to dinner with the family. We could use them for discussion during dinner and maybe learn something that would stick.

Incidentally, the Character Counts radio essays weren’t the only things I enjoyed on KNX-1070 radio in Los Angeles. Indeed, it was from another commentary on that radio station that I got the idea for my first published story. But you’ll have to wait until next time for that one.

Written on March 21, 2022.

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Character counts 10 year anniversary interview

I’m a big fan of Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” essays on KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. The daily essays on ethics and character are a breath of fresh air compared to most news programming out there. Recently, these essays have reached their 10th anniversary.

Tomorrow, at 11 AM Pacific (2 PM Eastern), there will be a one-hour long interview with Michael Josephson on KNX 1070 in L.aA. For those of you no longer living in L.A., you can listen to the interview (as I will) on the live feed at http://www.knx1070.com. Click on the “Listen Live” button once you get to the site to listen to the program.