Seven years ago, early on the morning of the 40th anniversary of this show’s original broadcast, my family and I packed up the car for a summer vacation. It was a Sunday, and we were heading off to Virginia Beach for a few days. At the end of the week, we’d backtrack to Blacksburg, for a reunion with several of my grad school friends, one of whom teaches at Virginia Tech. From there it would be off to Knoxville, where I was to attend a conference on mathematical biology.
Just about a month earlier, I’d begun listening in earnest to AT40 70s rebroadcasts on WWRW (Rewind 105.5), a Lexington-area 70s and 80s station. I hadn’t yet twigged that I could listen to the show practically on demand using the TuneIn app on my iPad, so I was limited to 9-12 on Sunday mornings if I wanted to get a Casey fix. It wasn’t quite habit at that point, anyway, so we were a few miles down I-64 East, around 9:20am, when I thought to twist the knob to 105.5.
WWRW’s signal isn’t all that strong, so we were in range just long enough to catch #35 through #30 of the same show we’re hearing this weekend. That stretch includes well-known tunes from Argent, the Fifth Dimension, and Al Green, plus a song from Bobby Vinton I’d likely seen promoted on TV in the late 70s for his mail-order greatest hits album. The other two weren’t familiar at all. One was Stevie Wonder’s last hit prior to his white-hot 70s period, “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You).” The other was sitting at #31, fresh off a peak of #27: “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long,” by Mississippi native Frederick Knight.
There are many things I’ve loved about listening to these shows since June 2012. Some of it’s nostalgia for the songs of my teen years, but honestly, I can dial up pretty much any of them on YouTube whenever I want. I greatly enjoy Casey’s storytelling, even when he got details wrong, and—maybe I shouldn’t admit this—I’m generally fascinated by the letters accompanying Long Distance Dedications. The best part, though, has been learning about songs of the early 70s I never heard/didn’t remember, especially those from the R&B side of the spectrum. “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long” is one of many such tunes, a Stax joint featuring Knight’s falsetto and a memorable “Won’t somebody help me please?” sung in a very low voice. While I did hear it in a Home Depot a couple of years ago, it still doesn’t seem to get much play outside of these late spring/early summer 72 rebroadcasts. I expect that Casey told me in the summer of 79 that Knight was the writer/producer of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,” but that wouldn’t have meant anything at the time.
One other thing that’s striking about this venture, as you can tell from the opening paragraphs: I’ve been forging new associations between AT40 and moments in my life.
It was very hot in Virginia Beach, but the three of us enjoyed the sand and the water. Our gathering in Blacksburg included old friends from Poland, who’d brought their family on an extended US vacation; a few games of bridge might have broken out. My time at the conference was cut short, however. Dad had been getting noticeably weaker in recent months due to a blood disorder. After my first full day in Knoxville, Mom called to let me know that he had checked himself into the hospital. We headed north first thing the next morning. I’d spend much of the rest of the time before school started back working with Mom on figuring out the next steps.