In the 1960s the closest thing to surfing the Internet was tuning the radio. There was television, of course, but in eastern Iowa before the advent of public broadcasting, the options were pretty limited. But radio, especially in the late-night hours, had so many possibilities. Clear Channel didn't mean a corporation with a near-monopoly on broadcasting, but certain AM radio stations which were allowed to broadcast at the maximum 50,000 watts.
I had a transistor radio which could pick up AM, FM, and short wave. The short wave was fun, but had a limited range. I could pick up the Voice of America and Radio Havana. Radio Havana would tell of every U.S. helicopter the National Liberation Force shot down. If they weren't exaggerating, it made me wonder whether helicopters were just too vulnerable. Voice of America, on the other hand, celebrated every U.S. victory and multiplied the enemy body count to the point that I wondered how there could be any Vietnamese left. It's interesting to hear propaganda for a while, but it gets tiresome.
The really interesting stuff was on the AM band. Talk radio was just beginning, and the king of talk was Joe Pyne. He was an ex-Marine who had lost a leg fighting in the Pacific. People remember him as a conservative, but he was really a Cold War liberal, who supported the Vietnam War but had absolutely no use for racial bigotry. Unlike Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, he didn't cut off people who were getting the better of him in an argument. He could be loud and abusive--the working-class Philadelphia accent made him sound even more abusive--but he didn't hide. A lot of people listened to Pyne, hoping to hear someone get the better of him. And we sided with him when he had a racist for a guest. I had a grudging respect for the guy.
For a liberal, antiwar alternative to Limbaugh, there was Dale Ulmer, who hosted an evening call-in show on WHO Radio in Des Moines. Unlike Pyne, he didn't yell or insult, but used logic and reason in his arguments. People rarely, if ever, got the better of him. Even though WHO was a clear-channel station which could be heard from the East Coast to the Rockies, few remember Dale Ulmer. His tenure as a talk show host was short, and he wasn't outrageous enough to be memorable, except to me, and perhaps a few others.
There were a lot of religious programs, but the strangest one whas hosted by the Reverend Curtis Springer. "This is the Reverend Curtis Springer, coming to you from the shores of Lake Tunedae, in the beautiful Mojave Desert." He spoke in deep but oily voice, in the manner of Senator Edward Dirksen (The Wizard of Ooze), and pronounced Tunedae something like Too-Wenda-Wee. In between recorded gospel tunes, such as "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb," he'd advertise his miracle remedies and invite people to visit his resort. The resort was called Zzyzyx, which Springer claimed was the last word in the English language. It was clear that Springer was a flim-flam artist, but I wasn't aware of the extent of his rascality. His crimes were certainly not on the scale of many of today's televangelists, but he was surely a scoundrel of the first order. (Check the link on his name for details.)
And late at night on weekends, there was Beaker Street, on the KAAY, "The Mighty 1090," a clear-channel station from Little Rock. I was never a great fan of what people later called "Progressive Rock," but I listened to it more for the atmosphere than the music. "This is Clyde Clifford, from Beaker Street," he'd say in his deep, slow, voice. He always sounded stoned, though I suspect he wan't. "That was 'Astronomy Domine,' by Pink Floyd, from their album, Ummagumma." He often played "Friends of Mine," by the Guess Who, which was not great poetry, but did make you listen. Strangely enough, Beaker Street is back on the air, though not on KAAY, which is now a religious station, but on FM, and downloadable on the Web.
AM Radio, with few exceptions, has become the domain of right-wing ideologues and Christian fundamentalists, while most of FM is niche-marketed and controlled by mega-corporations such as Clear Channel. I haven't follwed the "Net Neutrality" debate closely, but I'm wondering whether there are people in the boardrooms who'd like the Internet to be more like what commercial radio has become.