Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WNAK; or, Robert Goulet is dead

When I was growing up we always had Nanticoke's own easy listening station, WNAK, playing in the house. My parents were children of the 1930's, and came from somewhere in-between "The Greatest Generation" that fought World War II and the "Happy Days" generation of sock hops and submarine races. Technically, I believe they fell into what was called the "Silent Generation" - overshadowed by those who came before them, eclipsed by the Baby Boomers who came after them, conformist, moderately conservative, moderately progressive. Their music was not the rock'n'roll of Elvis and Chuck Berry, but was something smoother, mellower, gentler.

WNAK catered to their tastes, playing a mix of songs from their childhood by performers like The Andrews Sisters, The Mills Brothers, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra, songs by their contemporaries such as Jim Reeves, Englebert Humperdinck, and Robert Goulet, Polkas (always popular in this Polish-dominated area), and hymns (also popular in a primarily Roman Catholic area), along with softer stuff by more modern artists like Elvis, Ray Charles, Jim Croce, Anne Murray, The Carpenters, and The Captain & Tennille. Each day would be punctuated by the ultra-conservative editorials of station owner Bob Nielson and pieces by Paul Harvey and "This Is Pennsylvania" by Peter C. Wambach (featuring the line "It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania,"), even "Old-time radio dramas" - actually funny little 30-second melodramatic commercials for C.W. Schultz and Sons Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Each broadcasting day would end with Jim Reeves' version of "Night Watch":

Bright stars are watching the world as it sleeps
Shepherds watch over the little white sheep
The lighthouse is shining for ships far at sea
As God keeps the night watch for you and for me.

So sleep, sleep in peace and rest
Don't be afraid of the darkness
All's well for over the land and the sea
God's keeping the night watch for you and for me.*

I learned a lot of older songs back then, while other kids my age were growing up listening to The Who and The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. I would learn those songs, too, but later, as my older sister entered her teen years and blasted them from her stereo. (Later, during her college years, she would work as a DJ at WNAK for a while.) I think my childhood is richer for this layer of musical experience that many of my contemporaries, whose parents were sometimes ten to fifteen years younger than my own, never got to have.

Over time the artists I heard on WNAK have died off. Some, like Jim Reeves, died before I was born; others died when I was young. A few, like Englebert Humperdinck, are still alive and well, touring and performing.

WNAK itself has died, in a sense. Years ago Bob Nielson sold it to a corporation, which gradually morphed the station into a soft rock/easy listening format intended to appeal to the under-70 crowd. A while back Bob Nielsen died. A few weeks ago WNAK changed formats again, now into a Spanish easy listening station. It calls its format "Caliente", but the times I have listened to it - well, without the lyrics, you wouldn't know the music was any different; even polka and mariachi songs are fairly interchangeable.

Now another artist I learned to love from WNAK has passed away. Two days ago I learned that Robert Goulet was gravely ill and in need of a lung transplant. Yesterday he died. Tragically, the world has lost one of its great voices - and a pretty fair actor, too. He will be missed.

*Hearing this song on a Sunday evening was always one of the saddest experiences of my childhood, because it meant that the weekend was ending, and it was time to start thinking about whatever homework I might have been assigned on Friday.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Well, now that he's dead, I hope I never have to see that ad for Emerald Almonds where Goulet was crawling on the ceiling. It wasn't funny and Goulet looked like he was already dead. Creepy!