The Radio Mast


It was the farm hands’ Eiffel Tower. Just beyond the swampy edges of the small American town where I was raised, the lattice and clapboard mast of the local radio station jabbed at the sky.  Flashing its call letters above the cattail reeds it would send out a crackling mixture of country music and live broadcasts of our local high school football games. The radio waves would no doubt bounce around those low-lying swamps and fall mute on the ears of muskrats, opossum and deer.

Nobody listened. The big radio stations from the city 30 miles away would shoulder barge the feeble local signal and belittle its small town ways. But the mast kept churning out its radio waves year after year.

It had to.

Because there were occasions, dear readers, when the local station would become the centre of our universe.

Should the New England winds mix with the wet air from Virginia, you could be sure the station would be the sole source of announcing the Snow Day. Should the roads be deemed impassable, this small radio station would inform our local populace immediately that the local schools were closed. To the big radio stations from the city our swampy town was an afterthought. To La Tour Agriculteur we were not just the big story, we were the only story.

So we would huddle around the kitchen radio; blankets around our shoulders as we waited for the news. The radio turned to 1510 AM as it would only be for high school football and blizzards.  And when the announcement came, dear readers, when our school was cited by name, it sparked the sweetest celebration or bitterest disappointment. The taste of snatched time and the world turned upside down; of school work giving way to sleds and toboggans and snowmen. Or conversely; the austere and practical perseverance of school in session with a wonderland outside the classroom window.

Far past the point where the swamps empty into the river, which in turn empties into the estuary which in turn empties into the sea: all the way across that sea, I sat last night and watched the falling snow. It was my decision now. I could not wait for the disembodied, faux country accent riding on the milky sky from the town’s edge. The radio station on the edge of town could not compete with the city. It would not stand a chance against Europe.

Here things work differently. Here each Head Teacher decides for themselves whether their individual school remains open or closes due to the snow. Most Heads play a cagey game of wait and see, surveying what other local schools do before making a decision.  But I tend to be the catalyst, the first domino. I will call it first.

I sent a text to every member of staff asking for a report on the road conditions where they lived. I weighed up the factors; would travel be safe for children and staff? Would the ice keep many children away regardless? Would parents be able to get to work if they suddenly became responsible for their child’s care?

The staff, sensing my question and where it could possibly lead responded with “Horrible here, can’t get down the side roads.”

At 7pm last night I called school open. So did everyone else. The main roads were passable and the forecast was for cold dry skies.

This morning the ride to East London was only slightly slippery. On the A13 I head out of central London and into the low-lying docklands of the East End. I prod the car radio tuner searching for our high school football game or even Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Patsy Cline…

I remember that the road to the county hospital passed by the radio mast of that hometown station.  We would go by in my father’s car on the way to visit sick aunts or grandparents and I would see the great citadel. It held magical powers to bring about snow days.

And this morning in some East London kitchen a child sits with a blanket around his shoulders. He is not huddled around the radio but waits for his mother’s mobile phone to buzz and play an electronic xylophone tone. He will be disappointed.

The decision will be for school with a wonderland outside his window.

I am the man behind the curtain. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

Keep the Faith,

The Head

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Filed under Education, Family, The Big Wide World

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