Articles & Stories

Recollections Of The Days

When "Radio Was King"

The Radio Was The Link To The Outside World

For The Brown Family Of Elliott County, Kentucky

By Beulah Brown Adams - 2009

When I was growing up in Elliott County, Kentucky, my family depended entirely on the radio for our link to the outside world. We got the local news and weather from a nearby radio station and the national and world news from New York and Chicago.
My parents were Lyman and Sabra Winkleman Brown. I was the 10th child of 13 children born over a span of 24 years: 1925-1949. Thelma was the first child, followed by Homer, Willis, and Emogene; who all died as young children. Later came Marvin, Geneva, Sidney, Vernon, Irene, me, David, and Elizabeth and Eliza (twins).

Lyman and Sabra Winkleman Brown are shown in front of their home in Elliott County, Kentucky, ca. 1925.

Our family lived at the end of a dirt road. There were no other houses in sight of our farm. We had complete privacy without another living soul in sight. There were no phones to receive any news. Our weekly newspaper printed birth and death notices. We didn't subscribe to the paper. Dad would pick one up occasionally when he was at the little country store and post office, which was about three miles from our home. Mama wrote letters faithfully to her sister who lived far away, and exchanged Christmas cards with other family members, with little notes added in to inform them of our latest happenings. I believe postage was only three cents back then. It was a privilege to go to the post office for Mama, because it usually meant getting an ice cream or a soda pop. There wasn't always mail for us, but when we did get mail it was very exciting. We'd hurry home as fast as we could to deliver it to Mama. We knew she'd be anxious to get it. Sometimes there would be a package Mother had ordered from a catalog, and we knew there would be something in it for us. We'd make even faster tracks, as we ran barefoot down the dusty road toward home. Anytime there was an urgent message, it had to be sent by a telegram. People feared telegrams because they most always brought bad news.
Life for us was mostly slow on the farm. Daddy always said, "No news is good news." He worked in the fields all day during the growing season, planting, plowing, and cultivating his crops. Along about 4:00 in the afternoon he'd quit for the day and lead the livestock to the barn, take off their bridles, feed and water them, and put them up for the night.
When we saw Daddy at the barn, Mama would send one of us down to meet him with the milk bucket. After the milking was done, he would carry the pail of sweet milk into the kitchen for Mama to strain and put in the Frigidaire. His work was done for another day. His greeting to Mama was always, "What's for supper?"
Mama usually got supper ready every evening about 5:30 or 6:00. That gave Daddy enough time to change out of his dirty work clothes, wash up, and have supper over with radio that stood ready to be turned on once again for another evening of enjoyment.
There was one local radio station we listened to out of Morehead, Rowan County, Kentuc-ky. The disc jockey broadcast our favorite music, and with his likeable and charming personality, he was very popular among his listening audience, especially the young ladies. His radio name was Pee Wee Hall. We never dreamed this young Kentuckian would go on to become the talented singer and songwriter we now know as Tom T. Hall who resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
I had the opportunity to meet him in person at a boardingschool I attended in Olive Hill, Kentucky, about 1955. He stopped by one day to say hello to a bunch of young girls who were ardent fans of his. Then I saw him again when he came to my little hometown of Sandy Hook to put on a show at the movie theater with a band he had started. Some years later I saw him performing on a television show, and of course the rest is history. I am very proud of our local Kentucky son who made good. He was born at Olive Hill in Carter County.
We had some very special neighbors, Martin and Polly Conn, who lived not too far from us. We enjoyed visiting them on Saturday nights. Memmie, always let her two little sisters and younger brother tag along with her. This elderly couple, although in their mid-to-late-60s, were still very much young at heart and welcomed our visits with open arms. Of course, Saturday night meant the Grand Old Opry was on the radio. As we listened to the music from their little radio that set atop the fireplace, we snacked on homemade fudge or popcorn while warming by the fire. They always had strong black coffee to drink, which we loved, and sometimes they only had leftover soupbeans and cornbread to offer us, but we accepted it thankfully.
At times there was so much static coming over the radio that we could hardly hear the show, and sometimes it came in clear as a bell. Either way we enjoyed our visits with this wonderful old couple and remember them still today with much fondness.
Along about 11:00 p.m., we'd head out into the dark night for home. We took a shortcut through the woods, across a creek, and up through a pasture to get home. We weren't scared at all, for we had our brother, Vernon, to protect us. We'd creep inside the house and climb into bed, quite as a mouse, so as to not awaken our parents.
Most of my siblings and I were always musically inclined even from an early age. We never took a music lesson, but we could sing and we learned to play the guitar "by ear." We'd hear songs on the radio we'd like to sing but didn't know the words to them. Memmie would go out and buy a songbook that came out monthly with the words to all the songs we'd heard. The magazine had photos of our favorite country singers, whom we'd only heard on the radio and not seen.
Radio is still a big part of my life. I listen to the radio while cooking, cleaning house or just taking a break between jobs. I like most all kinds of music and just like dear old Dad, I am definitely a "newshound," too. I like to listen to talk radio, nothing controversial, just good friendly talk. It's the best company a country woman can have while stringing a bushel of beans for canning, cutting corn off the cob, or chopping cabbage for sauerkraut.
Some of my fondest memories of home and long ago are the cold, winter nights when I, along with my dad, mom, brothers, and sisters all gathered around the fire and listened to the radio.

Beulah Brown Adams, 128 Pine Tree Lane, Nancy, KY 43255; 606/871-7625; [email protected], shares this article and photos with our readers.

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