The Nostalgic Pleasure of Signing Off

December 6, 2009
By | 3 Comments
1550 AM Hit Radio

Broadcasting from sunrise to sunset

I have to admit, I listen to most of my “radio” online. Be it local community sponsored, pubic radio, college radio, or streaming commercial music stations from around the country, I listen to them all via computer, iPod, etc. However, the car seems to be the one place in which the radio waves, consumed the old fashioned way dominate.

But when my old standards failed me the other day (WSUM, WORT, oldies, and 93.1 Jamz if you’re curious. And yes, I’m one of the few people over the age of 14 that listen to that last station), I switched to the AM mode on my now outdated car radio and found Hit Radio WHIT — “The 50s, the 60s, every song’s a hit on Hit Radio WHIT” out of DeForest, WI. Aside from playing oldies you’d never hear on FM, at least not in Madison, WI anyway, the station only broadcasts from sunrise to sunset! I have yet to hear the sign on, but the experience of hearing a station sign off is actually amazing. As a media studies scholar, I almost feel like it’s blasphemous to say so, but dead air on the radio is fascinating!

At around 4.30pm, aka sunset during winter months, the song “Happy Trails” plays followed by a message from 1550 AM stating something along the lines of: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, moms and dads; time for us to put the little tiny records in their little tiny beds. Tune in tomorrow. . .” And then dead air for about 2-3 minutes before an interfering signal kills the silence.

The absence of sound on an otherwise continuous stream is a bit jarring at first, but there’s also something almost pleasurable about it. And it’s unlike when your stream is re-buffering or cut out, the intentionality makes the silence completely different. When I thought about it though, it wasn’t the lack of sound, music, talk, coming from the receiver that was peaceful. It was what the silence signified that I appreciated.

Broadcasting from sunrise to sunset, in accordance with the presence of daylight, this is what I think I find attractive. The temporal coincidence of the signing off of a broadcasting station and the end of the day is something we rarely experience anymore. Let alone the day ending when the sun goes down! Both are nostalgic I think. I came across an HBO sign off from the 1980s recently that echoed the coincidence of signals ending when it was time to go to sleep.

Rarely, if at all do I hear aural cues from broadcasters telling listeners to end their day, go to sleep, eat dinner, and put the little tiny records in their little tiny beds. Yes, radio hosts sometimes make reference to morning and evening rush hours, and suppositions about what you might be doing at any given time, and might even beckon you to start and end your day with their station. But the act of starting and ending daylight hours with the start and end of a broadcast signal seems different.

The pleasure didn’t come from the fact that music wasn’t playing or the DJ wasn’t talking. Instead, that in the midst of the 24 hour, just in time labor, often non-local media landscape I often find myself enveloped in, there’s a place on the dial where the broadcasting day ends when the sun goes down. And my sun happens to be going down at the same time.

Have people encountered this part time model of radio broadcasting before? Or is this something exclusive to DeForest, WI?


Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “ The Nostalgic Pleasure of Signing Off ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on December 7, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    I was fond of a sign-off piece of animation that I think CBC, or perhaps one of the commercial Canadian channels used, that showed a bird flying across Canada, coast to coast, and then lights off. It seemed a fascinating signoff, given that they’re often more localized or domesticized (as with the notion of putting tiny little records to bed, suggesting a house going to sleep), yet here was a piece that suggested a nation united and wrapped up before sleep (all the more odd given the 4.5 timezones in the country, and hence variable bedtimes). There also seemed to be an implicit (even Canadian, dare I say, answering its call for nationalism?) humility to the idea that broadcasting could end and needn’t continue ad nauseum. Roger Silverstone writers beautifully of how television can rock us to sleep at night with a sense of ontological security, and such signoffs are kind of endearing for how they suggest that broadcasting can end now, since nothing’s going on — just go to bed now, dear. In a world with a million things happening at once, I too appreciate the nostalgic pleasure of such a suggestion.

  2. Megan Ankerson on December 7, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    I love that nostalgic pleasure too. It emphasizes the liveness of broadcasting in a way that makes you feel connected, part of a local or national ritual. And the idea of signing off to hit the sack has a particular ‘gee whiz’ 1950s vibe that would make a cool refrigerator magnet. When I read Janet Thumim’s “Small screens, big ideas” about British TV in the 50’s I was struck by the notion of the “Toddlers’ Truce.” Early British TV halted transmission from 6-7pm (after children’s television hour and before the evening news) so children could be put to bed. The practice was ended when advertising became a bigger priority… a common plot line it seems.

  3. Germaine Halegoua on December 9, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    I love these examples! And there’s definitely something germane about the fact that WHIT plays music from the 50s and 60s, the whole listening experience is like a time warp. I recommend it.