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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

One Less Voice in the Night

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

Long-time Boston radio personality Norm Nathan died a little while ago after more than 50 years in the Boston radio business. I hate calling people "personalities," but Nathan defies a more precise description. Disc jockey, announcer, newsman, talk show host - he quite literally did it all in his 70 years.

He will be missed.

I know they say that about everyone who dies, but for Nathan, it's true. A sometimes silly, self-effacing, always gentle man, he was most recently WBZ radio's weekend all-night talk host. In a world where talk show hosts are more apt to deal with hot political issues and call people "swine," Nathan kept his 14 hours a week light, fun, and very human. He willingly traded controversy for chatting; name-calling for genuineness; politics for silliness. His motto was "Leave the world a little sillier than you found it."

He did.

Late night Boston AM radio was such a barren and vapid desert even before the oasis of Norm Nathan left us. It is more so now. Filled with taped replays and nationally syndicated programs, it has lost its spontaneity, its verve, its personality, and its very soul.

I recall (many years ago) nights of AM radio filled with Dick Summer and Jeff Kaye and Larry Glick. As an asthmatic youngster with a cheap transistor radio hidden under his pillow, I spent literally hundreds of hours listening to those voices. They kept me company.

They became friends.

And then later as an all-night DJ myself on a tiny 1000 watt college station, I began to understand even more the very special bond we form with those voices in the night.

It comes from not only a kind of primal fear of the darkness, I think. It is partly that perhaps, but it is more, as well. More that makes us search for voices in the darkness, seek company at night - and then to cling to them once we find them.

In the wee hours of the morning, time passes more slowly. And more silently. At times evan sadly. It sometimes finds us up and working on something-or-other at the last minute. Sometimes it finds us sick (or caring for someone else who's sick). Or worrying. Or lonely. It's not the mass marketed TV images that we seek in those hours, and often it's not music, either. It's the sound of a human voice, another person. A connection to the rest of the world somehow - or just to one member of it. The knowledge that there IS someone else up . . . quite nearly with us.

I've been on both sides of that radio speaker - been both the ear searching for the words of another soul and been that faceless voice myself. And I recall after my last all-night radio program in college the woman who called on the phone to quietly and anonymously thank me - just for being there.

"I've been listening to you for three years," she explained. "And you've kept me company as I've written quite a few last-minute term papers. You've helped me make it through some long, lonely nights in other ways, too. Sometimes I liked the music that you played and sometimes I hated it, but it was nice to have you there, to know that there was someone else up. Thanks."

A voice in the darkness. Sometimes that's all we really need. When the voice is soft . . . when it is light . . . when it is gentle . . . it makes all the difference in the world.

The Boston AM airwaves will be a little quieter from now on, now that Norm Nathan's gone. A little less silly. A little less civilized.

And our late nights will be a little lonelier without his gentle voice to keep us company.

We will miss him as we can only miss one who used to keep us company all through the night.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.