Music to drive by

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece that combined two of my favorite subjects — cars and movies.

I am compelled to combine two of my favorite subjects — cars and music — today because someone at noticed the 82nd anniversary of the car radio, and the 60th anniversary of the car FM radio:


The graphic gets two things wrong. beginning with the spelling of “Blaupunkt.” The author also has confused cassettes (which are mentioned) with eight-track tapes (one of which is pictured). Radios that also played the latter were first offered on 1966 Fords and Lincolns. The eight-track was preceded by Chrysler’s effort to include record players (which didn’t play the same records you could play at home) in late ’50s cars, and followed by cassette tape players in cars in the mid-1970s.

Not because my parents ever paid for eight-track or cassette radios (their first was standard with the car), but I have always equated driving with music from whatever music-playing device was in the car. The first time I heard the legendary WLS radio in Chicago was, I believe, on a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The second time was going through Chicago on a vacation to Dearborn, Mich. (The Henry Ford Museum is a must-see for car geeks.) The third time was going through Chicago on a Florida trip.

In my lifetime, unless the driver wants to hear the car making strange noises, the radio has always been on. Since I’ve never owned a car whose engine provided enough music on its own (which I assume will continue to be the case after Sunday, which will again pass without my getting a Corvette), sound from one, two, four or six speakers has always accompanied driving.

The informal rule has always been that the driver decides, or least has veto power over, what’s on the radio. (Transportation freedom includes choosing whom you travel with, the temperature of the air around you, and what you want to listen to. None of those are available in mass transit.) Sometimes I got to hear good music. Other times I was sentenced to listen to the oxymoronic “beautiful music” that two Madison FM stations used to play. (Neither does now, and it seems that narcolepsy-producting format has largely disappeared from the airwaves, thank heavens.)

Driving as much as I now do gives me ultimate authority over what I want to hear. The audio priorities are, in order, (1) music, (2) sports and (3) news and talk. It may surprise some readers that third is a quite distant third, but it is — the only talk radio I listened to even semi-regularly was WTMJ radio’s Charlie Sykes; not Mark Belling, not Rush Limbaugh, not Sean Hannity, and not really anyone else.

Priority number two is something I like to do when driving somewhere on spring or summer nights, when you can listen to baseball games on clear-channel AM radio stations if the atmosphere cooperates — starting at the top of the dial, the Mets on WFAN (660 AM), the White Sox on WSCR (670 AM), the Reds and legendary announcer Marty Brennaman on WLW (700 AM), the Cubs on WGN (720 AM), the Astros on KTRH (740 AM), the Rockies on KOA (850 AM), the Yankees on WCBS (880 AM), the Indians on WTAM (1100 AM), the Cardinals on KMOX (1120 AM), the Phillies on WPHT (1210 AM), and the Twins on KSTP (1500 AM). The Pirates used to be on KDKA (1020 AM), but now are not, as if anyone really wants to hear them. The Cardinals were on KMOX forever, then left, but now (wisely) have returned.

(The Brewers are not on the above list because, while WTMJ is 50,000 watts during the day, it’s only 10,000 watts at night. On the other hand, 37 Wisconsin stations carry Brewers games.)

Priority number one remains music, though. I don’t have a road CD, and I don’t own an iPod (and if I did, I’m confident one of my children would have appropriated it, like the Trek bicycle I won but never get to ride). There is a genre of music that could be called “road rock,” songs that are appropriate played loudly as you drive. The common characteristics that come to my mind are a travel theme of some sort, a more up-tempo beat (ballads suck for driving and many other things) and a strong drum part:

The next few may seem strange inclusions, but play them while you’re driving sometime:

(This is where Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” would go if you could find Dylan singing it.)

The Australian group Midnight Oil (whose politics are really different from mine, but politics and music should not mix) perhaps inadvertently wrote good road music (as long as you don’t listen to the lyrics, since they have nothing to do with driving), beginning with a song I sometimes play when I know I’m going to have a challenging day at work:

Bruuuuuuuuuuuce Springsteen has two obvious choices:

Those of us who grew up in the era when MTV played music videos also would pick road rock based on music videos:

Maybe someday I’ll get to make the choice between the thunder of a V-8 and road rock.


6 thoughts on “Music to drive by

  1. Oh Steve, there are a million great driving tunes you did not mention.How about almost anything by the Allman Bros, Marshall Tucker Band, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Petty among many others. I loved my 1970’s era Pioneer Super Tuner in my 1965 Ford Galaxy 500. A lot of power especially on the FM dial and the car too. It played cassettes (the real ones) and looked cool mounted under the factory installed car stereo. Combine it with some great wedge style rear window Pioneer speakers and you had a great party car! Then one of my friends got an auto reverse cassette stereo. No more flipping the music. Nowadays you get some pretty cool standard stuff in the new vehicles too along with Sync capabilities. Never far from the worlds communication, wherever you may end up on the long road home. Thanks for all the memories you blog about.

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