Thursday, February 14, 2008

Do you want to know how important radio is? Think: Jess Cain.

Do you want to know how important radio is to listeners? Here's how important it is.

A friend left a voice mail message for me this morning at work. It said, "Jess Cain died." And I started to sob.

So who was Jess Cain? If you have to ask, then you probably didn't live within range of the old WHDH-AM Boston-area radio signal anytime between 1958 and 1991 or, if you did, then you probably weren't an early riser.

Jess sent me off to school each morning. He was the first person to talk to me when I awoke, he was the first person to make me smile each day, and he was usually the first person to break the really, really bad news to me each morning, too (my mom actually woke me in the wee hours of a particular morning in December of 1981 expressly so that I wouldn't hear about John Lennon's murder from Jess) -- and to share the really, really good news (snow day! yay!) with me.

I still remember his last day on the air as clearly as I remember other huge losses in my life. I'm sure I have plenty of company in feeling that Jess Cain, and all those larger-than-life, local radio personalities of the time -- smart and talented, respectful and kind -- were never replaced, and never will be.

The intimacy of radio persists, though, and if authors and publishers ever question whether it's worth it to do an interview on a small radio station, this blog entry is my response. Yes. Do it. It's worth it. There's nothing as intimate and satisfying as connecting with a radio audience.

Jess was almost a member of my family. His successors (at other area radio stations -- WHDH radio doesn't even exist any longer, alas) aren't in his league, but I still feel a strong bond with some of the on-air personalities who populate the airwaves these days. They're an important part of my life, and my newsgathering, and my entertainment, and my waking up in the morning -- and they're an integral part of the lives of other members of their listeners, too. Who wouldn't want to tap into that powerful relationship as part of a book promotion campaign?

If you love Jess Cain, the way that I do, you might want to read about him. Click here to do so at the Boston Globe's Web site.