Michael Sneed on Chuck Schaden

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Posted by Blue on June 22, 2009 at 18:52:48:

Usually when Michael Sneed writes about somebody, they have been seen bribing an official, under-tipping in a restaurant, attending an event without their spouse, lying about thinking about running for Governor, or some such less-than-flattering situation. So when Sneed choose to write about the ever-classy Chuck Schaden, I was a little concerned. It is a loving tribute to the man, his radio show and her own family, though. From the Sunday Sun-Times....

Radio days


June 21, 2009

I don't stream, I don't Twitter, I don't do Facebook. But at 1 p.m. most Saturdays, I do the radio.

I turn my radio dial to WDCB-FM (90.9); sit at my kitchen table; pay bills, answer letters, flutter paper, stamp envelopes . . . and go back in time -- back to the womb of my grandmother's kitchen, where the radio held sway.

During this special time, there is no laptop streaming, no TV blaring. It's now post-World War II, the men in my family are home, and Grandma listens to the sad life of "Stella Dallas," the stories of "Pepper Young's Family" and the antics of "Fibber McGee and Molly" while she cooks and watches my mother put on an apron.

Listening. That's what I do for four hours on Saturday; listening to a guy named Chuck Schaden serve up the golden age of radio, which he has done since 1970.

And on my kitchen windowsill sits a small black-and-white photo of my mother, grandmother and me in my grandparents' kitchen.

It was taken on Nov. 16, 1948, and I have just turned 5 years old. My dark hair is twisted in long funnels; I am wearing a jumper and white anklets, and I am watching the most important women in my young life frost my birthday cake.

My back is to the camera, but if you look closely you can spot the little radio in the windowsill of their two-story home in the the little Missouri River town of Mandan, N.D.

On weekends, we would spin the dial on the large Zenith radio up against the wall in the living room, where we listened to "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," "Gang Busters" and "Suspense."

The sounds of the kitchen radio stopped for a while, when my grandmother died. Worn out from the daily chores of a woman in ill health, she passed away when she was only 56. It changed my view of the world; death had crept into my young life.

The radio continued to occupy a place in my mother's kitchen for as long as I can remember. But the magic was gone . . . along with organ music and a world before 1955.

Then, sometime in the 1990s, my grandmother's kitchen magically reappeared. My family was no longer separated by geography . . . and death.

I became addicted by a chance turn of the dial. It was Chuck Schaden's radio show. Once again, I was helping crank up homemade ice cream in the backyard . . . and squeezing the orange pellet in the margarine packet to make it look like butter.

I got to re-hear the goofy phrases my parents once used: "He's such a Stoopnagel" . . . or "your boyfriend has eyes like Moon Mullins."

I found out I knew most of the words to the 1940s torch songs and laughed again when Mel Blanc bleated: "Kookamonga!"

How much I'd forgotten. How wonderful to hear it once again.

I have since scrubbed floors listening to "Sam Spade: Private Eye"; wrapped Christmas presents listening to "The Cinnamon Bear"; howled at the repartee of Phil Harris, and am held in wonder at the comedic timing of Jack Benny.

Sadly, although the radio show will continue, its host since 1970 has decided to call it a day. Schaden is retiring next Saturday. Thankfully, the new host will be Schaden's old friend, Steve Darnell, and sidekick Ken Alexander . . . but I'll miss the voice I've been listening to for nearly 15 years.

Retiring after 39 years on the radio, Schaden will turn 75 on June 29. His buddy, Dan McGuire, thought Schaden's birthday might be worth a mention in the column.

How about a whole column, Chuck?

My Saturday stint at the kitchen table will never be the same; your voice will now be part of my past.

But, how golden it has all been.

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