Radio’s passing fancy

JESS_CAIN.JPG.jpgWhen MPR started News Cut, the boss made it clear: “it’s not about you. And minimize the first person.” And he was — and is — right. But I’m sneaking this one on here without him seeing it because in a way this one is about me, at least about something that means a lot to me: radio and the people in it.

Here’s my story:

Back when I was far too young to know how good I had it, I worked in Boston, a city I still love like no other, with some of the finest people I’ve ever known. Jess Cain was one of them. Jess, the long-time morning man at WHDH Radio, worked at a time in radio when you had to be funny and clever without being vulgar, and if you think that’s easy, turn on the radio sometime and hear how many people don’t know how to do it.

The older I get, the more I marvel at life’s twists and turns, and the journey that takes you where you had no idea you’d go. When I was 13 — 1967 — I followed the Red Sox in their Impossible Dream year. I threw a tennis ball against the garage wall with every pitch Jim Lonborg would make. The Sox won the pennant that year, spurred on by Carl Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown, beating the Twins on the final weekend of the season. I never thought a team that finished dead last in a 10-team league the year before, could beat the likes of Killebrew, Kaat, and Chance.

Over the winter, we all sang the Carl Yastrzemski song, made famous by Jess. (Listen to an mp3 download here). Then I grew up, went into the radio business, and somehow I ended up working with Jess Cain. He was a big star, and I was a news editor who wasn’t worth a minute of his time, but he always spent it anyway.

And talk about your connection with history. Jess Cain was the only member of Audi Audie Murphy’s unit (he was the most decorated soldier of World War II) who wasn’t wounded when it was trapped at the Battle of the Bulge. It was Cain who was able to get help to rescue the soldiers. For that, he got a Silver Star.

Jess died this morning, and I can’t believe my unbelievable good fortune for having known him.

I know there are thousands of Minnesotans who grew up with their version of Jess Cain. Maybe it was Howard Viken, Maynard Speece, Charlie Boone and Roger Erickson, Jergen Nash, Dale and Jim Ed. But there are fewer and fewer of us who can point to a single radio person in our youth who bound us, our families, and disparate generations together. Radio was instrumental in creating the sense of community.

That point was made clear by a person who posted to Jess’ Legacy memorial page today:

There was a time when each city and town in America had a local flavor. It wasn’t perfect and I certainly don’t want to live in the past but something has been lost when you read how these people remember waking up every morning and listening to Jess on the radio. It is interesting that all that was needed was a $20 radio and it lasted for years and provided unlimited entertainment. Now we need a $10/ month DSL on a computer that needs upgrading every 3 years. He was a familiar voice filling up the airwaves with a hope of a school cancellation! The Cain family should know Jess will always be remembered.

And we’ll remember you, too, radio.