Chapter Two: Turn Your Radio On

It was Saturday morning, which meant Felix and I woke up groggy at 9 a.m.

His phone alarm was never enough to wake him up. So, I rolled over in bed and started shaking him real hard. He groaned. I pinched his nose. He sputtered. I slapped him and said, “Wake up, fucker! It’s time for AMFM.”

Felix took his phone off my nightstand and checked the time.

“It’s so early,” he said. He was always such a little shit in the morning.

“You’re the one who set the alarm. I’m just holding you to your promises.”

We both put shameful hands over our morning wood and wandered my cluttered bedroom, sniffing for clean clothes. The uniform for AMFM meetings was a band tee shirt and jeans.

I put on a Clash tee shirt we stole from Hot Topic back when we both worked there for a month and a half. Felix opted to slip back into yesterday’s outfit. Black hoodie and a Ramones tee shirt that he’s had since he was ten years old. I liked how it looked like his stomach was going to burst through it.

We skipped breakfast like we always do and hauled ass down to Trinity Episcopal Church. For some reason, they let our group of radio obsessives meet once a week in the room in the basement where Sunday schoolers usually watched VeggieTales.

In the middle of the room, there was a plastic folding table surrounded by white plastic chairs. The walls were decorated with posters, some of Jesus Christ impaled on the cross, some with motivational quotes and pictures of cats or hockey players. It smelled like a big, ol’ nothing. I loved it because it was home.

We were a little early, so I started the coffee. Felix grabbed a plastic storage bin from the far corner of the room and began setting the AMFM books in neat rows on the table.

“I knew we woke up too early,” said Felix. “We always make the coffee.” He slouched over his work, making sure the bottom of each book was parallel to the edge of the table. Despite his avowed almost-religious laziness, the boy took great pains to make each AMFM meeting look as neat & tidy as possible. He didn’t want any newcomers to think we were a bunch of psycho cranks. We had rule and order.

“I will remind you again: you set the alarm,” I replied. “You like to get here early anyway. Every time someone else sets up a meeting, you complain about how shitty it looks.”

“Because this stuff is important. If everyone were as careful as me, I wouldn’t have any reason to complain.”

Felix and I discovered AMFM at the same time. Walking downtown, we saw a water-damaged flier stapled to a telephone pole.

DO YOU FEEL A CONNECTION WITH THE RADIO?

HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO THE RADIO?

HAS IT SPOKEN TO YOU?

We’ve been coming to the meetings for about a year and a half now. At this point, we’re true believers. Fanatics, maybe. Possible psycho cranks.

Believing in something helped us pass the time. Plus, it imbued our dull lives with a sense of magic. It’s hard to find magic in Wimperston. You have to really look for it. You have to be open to the world. You have to listen when a flier tells you where to go.

It was pure fate that Felix and I were together anyway. We were never officially dating, but we were the only people we knew under the age of 45 who could stand to talk to us.

So we stuck together and fucked and walked around town bitching about stuff. I think our shared love of the radio was the backbone of our relationship. That and my commitment to making sure he never got arrested, killed, or inducted into a cult. He has always been fragile enough to fuck up his whole life on accident.

I got myself a cup of black coffee and sat at the head of the table. It was my turn to chair a meeting.

“Sylvia, this coffee tastes like shit!” said Felix. He hated strong coffee. Could never get his seventeen year old taste buds accustomed to the bitterness. I liked it thick and dark as motor oil.

“Put some sugar in it or just make another pot,” I said. He poured sugar into his cup for a solid four seconds, grumbling all the while. “Come over here, sweetie.”

More people started to file in as the hands on the analog clock on the wall inched their way towards ten o’clock.

Juanita, the middle-aged nurse who swore the radio saved her marriage.

Mark, the alcoholic with Cryptkeeper hair who could magically will the radio to play “Closing Time” for him when his brain knew he’d had enough but his body wanted to keep going.

Marvin, who renamed himself after he started to get the creeping feeling that Marvin Gaye was stalking him through the airwaves.

Deborah, who now relied only on radio preachers alone for guidance after several decades of diligent church attendance. No one knew why she stopped going to church, and we hoped she’d just spill it out one day. But she swore the preachers on the radio were more in touch with God than anyone she’d ever met in person.

And finally, Janice, the lady who flipped on the radio every morning at seven a.m. and listened to it like a horoscope for an hour straight. I liked her the most. She was open to whatever messages the world sent her. And she loved the radio more than any of us. Her dad was a local DJ back before I was even born. She grew up in the thick of it and had mythologized the Hell out of it.

Like all of us, she felt that Daniel Doorsmith’s Reading the Radio was a religious text that held the secrets to the universe.

He wasn’t a nut. He was a prophet.

When everyone had settled into their chairs, I called them to attention.

“We’re going to start the meeting now,” I announced. “Let’s begin in our usual fashion, with the reading of The Prayer.”

Solemnly, with great respect and measured slowness, we spoke in unison. An abridged version of Albert Brumley’s “Turn Your Radio On” with lyrics from the Ray Stevens rendition mixed in. John Hartford, Andy Griffith, Randy Travis and the Statler Brothers have covered it too. It is scripture.

Come and listen in to the radio station

Where the mighty hosts of heaven sing

Turn your radio on

If you wanna hear the songs of Zion

Coming from the land of endless spring

Get in touch with God

Turn your radio on

Don’t you know that everybody is a radio receiver?

All you gotta do is listen for the call

If you listen in, you will be a believer

Leaning on the truth that will never fall

Get in touch with God

Turn your radio on

Listen to the music in the air.

didn’t your mama ever teach you how to cry, boy?