Paleontologists there have uncovered the remains of five people who inhabited that region about 1.8 million years ago. Not exactly earthshaking news, unless youíve already signed off on the notion that, for human beings, the motherland is Africa. Now, thanks to diggers at the Dmilisi site near the Caucasus Mountains, it looks as though our forefathers on the Homo erectus branch of our family tree developed in Eurasia as well as Africa, and itís anybodyís guess on which continent the species originated.
According to reports in the British press, which always gets the scoops on big digs, the Dmilisians had large social skills and tiny brains, making them almost certainly ancestors of the Teabaggers.
Oh, but they also note ďone of the five skulls is of a person who lost all his or her teeth during their lifetime but had still survived for many years despite being completely toothless. This suggests some kind of social organisation based on mutual care.Ē Guess that primordial interest in health care lets the Ďbaggers off the hook.
The earthshaking news, for me, anyway, was learning that friendly old Yellowstone National Park is in reality sitting on the epicenter of a supervolcano whose eruption would ruin family vacations all over the central U.S. for a hundred years or so.
This horrifying prospect apparently has been in general circulation for quite awhile, and itís only because Iíve been so busy tracking near-earth asteroid trajectories that Iíve not had a chance to add supervolcanoes to my personal list of apocalyptic concerns.
It looks as though the Yellowstone supervolcano is going to bump the New Madrid Fault out of my top five, and thatís a shame, because Iíve always maintained a regional loyalty to the propagator of all those earthquakes in our area in 1811 and 1812, some of which probably hit 8.0 on our modern Richter scale. If the giant tectonic plates under Missouri should start sliding around again, it could make the seismograph at Spring Hill College the most popular in the country.
Perhaps my interest in earthquakes comes from time spent in radio, where there were constant rumblings from the front office and one was wise to keep an ear to the ground. Lately we have heard a good bit of movement in the halls of broadcasting along Red Mountainís ridge, the most remarked-upon being the jettison of Shannon Stevens after 16 years of sign-ons with Rob Conrad at Magic 96.
One might have guessed something was up when Magic station owner Clear Channel decreed that associate possession WERC-AMís morning talk show should be upgraded to an FM slot where 105.5 The Vulcan used to be. As though it werenít tough enough for Rob and Shannon to hold onto their ratings against other radio stationsí offerings, now their very own corporation seemed to be programming against them (and rather cleverly, too, since a talk format tends to siphon away male listeners from music-based formats).
However, the laws of radio thermodynamics decree that natter is neither created nor destroyed. As one station sinks into a corporate quagmire, another will always emerge from the ooze. Ferrel Eugene Underwood, always a man in the know, rang up to say that our old pal Gordon Neil was now doing some broadcasting on WHPH-FM, a station perhaps better known as The Peach. As an assertion of how much he enjoys being in front of a microphone, Gordon is willing to drive all the way to Clanton twice a week, probably 90 miles round trip, to spin records at a facility with a total radiated power of 3100 watts.
My hair dryer pulls more power than that.
If youíre on the road south of town, though, you can pull in 97.7 and you may well call it peachy. Like few other stations remaining these days, The Peach is request-driven, and if youíve a hankering for music of the Sixties and Seventies, the affable on-air personnel can feed your need.
This approach to programming is the antithesis of the corporate method, which seeks the lowest common denominator among listeners to guarantee the highest return to shareholders. Clear Channelís second-quarter loss of $3.7 billion indicates how well that philosophyís working for them.
Look, people buy champagne for the bubbles. In radio, the fizz comes from an on-air attitude that reflects the interests of its listenership. Depersonalizing a station to make it sound like any other station in any other city gives nobody a special reason to tune in.
Monday, Iíll be dragging out a set of cassettes I listen to whenever I want to be reminded of radioís magic. Itís a complete dayís programming from WJSV, in Washington D.C., on Sept. 21, 1939. It starts with Arthur Godfrey doing the sleepiest wake-up program imaginable and it ends 18 hours later with the smooth sounds of the Bob Chester Orchestra. In between, thereís news, soap operas, an address by the President and a baseball game called by Walter Johnson, plus AmosíníAndy, The Original Amateur Hour and plenty of live commercials.
It was regular programming, nothing special, yet this day from 1939 lives on in this unique soundtrack. Just as the scientists at Dmilisi can speculate about their discovery, we can study this broadcast artifact from 70 years ago and find aspects of the people who would have been listening to it, people on the verge of historic adventure.
Will someone listening to a day of broadcasting from one of our stations 70 years hence be able to make any suppositions about us at all?
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org