If you’re a millennial or older, you probably have some sort of relationship with radio. Perhaps radio was ubiquitous in your own home and car for years before Spotify arrived; maybe you just remember being a child sitting in the back hearing the radio humming in the background; maybe you are a regular listener to this day.
Personally, I trace my love of podcasts to the fact that my parents had the radio playing the news most of the time. More recently, since moving to a town that has not one but two alternative rock music radio stations (KROQ and KYSR, aka Alt 98.7, to be exact), I found myself listening in the car rather than choosing a playlist through my phone. I’m starting to get familiar with morning and afternoon hosts and have considered calling when, say, Disney tickets are up for grabs. I even bought a real radio for my house, a miniature replica of an old Victrola speaker.
Lest you think radio is on the way out, the Pew Research Center found that in 2020, 83% of Americans over the age of 12 tuned in at least once a week. Whether you’re one of those listeners or just have a nostalgic relationship with the radio, you can find kindred spirits in Maine writer Ham Martin’s “Talk Radio,” an endearing novel about a morning talk show. on a local AM radio station in a small village in Maine, the fictional Frost Pound.
It opens with Vivien Kindler, a woman recently separated from her husband Alan, lazily listening to the radio in the house where her ex left her to live. lots of money, but Vivien is dissatisfied and lonely, her life rather empty, her possessions ringing hollow with no close family, friends, partner or community.
When Fred Boyland, the morning show host, has a stroke shortly after first listening to Vivien, she decides on a whim to apply for the job and, perhaps because he there are no other takers, the couple who run the station hire him on the spot. .
Frost Pound is the kind of place where people know each other. They know everyone’s families and stories, who’s gone and who’s come back, who drinks too much or has troublesome hobbies, and they also know that Vivien has come a long way. At first, no one wants to talk to her about anything except where Fred Boyland went, if he’s coming back, and why Vivien doesn’t run the show like him. Fred used the news as a starting point for conversations; Vivien is more interested in telling her own stories and getting them from her interlocutors, whom she gently brings into a kind of public intimacy.
Some people like it anyway, like the friendly retired English teacher who corrects Vivien’s pronunciation of the village name: “It’s Frost Pound – with an accent on Frost. Say it like frostbite or frog pond. Can you hear it? Not like Ezra Pound.
Others, however, continue to look down on her, such as a man named Old Sabe who regularly trolls Vivien with stories of freshwater lobsters. Some townspeople become regular callers, each with a nickname of their choosing: George the welder (to distinguish him from socialist George who sometimes calls), JJ’s mother (a grieving mother who now raises a dog named JJ) , Brownie (a delivery boy who reads his original poetry on the air), the Piano Tuner (self-explanatory).
The book is told primarily through radio dialogue, and Martin has a wonderful gift for telling voices apart. Vivien is an endearing main character, mostly because she’s a bit idealistic and naive, which allows her, for the most part, to truly believe the best in people and find each of them worthy, regardless of their implied policies. or their attitudes towards it.
When George the Welder, for example, assures her that no one cares why he never went to college, she says, “Some don’t care, maybe most don’t care. – I don’t know. But some do, and everyone should. I worry. It is your story that you have lived and that you know. Maybe your story can help people think about the issues they’re facing right now.
Where the book falters is in some of what happens outside of the radio station. The third-person narration that weaves its way into the radio transcript is stilted at times and doesn’t always add much substance, and there’s a flirtation between two of the regular callers that feels shoed in the last quarter of the book.
Yet these are minor flaws that are easily overlooked in the service of the whole, which is a heartwarming and inspiring portrayal of how community can function – both on and off the air.
Ilana Masad is a book reviewer and fiction writer working on her PhD. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her first novel, “All My Mother’s Lovers”, was published by Dutton in 2020.
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