Sunday, February 26, 2012

Finding a Happy Anachronism in Online New Mexico

I burned out at the end of writing What If They Lived?. I had tunnel vision, and it was all I could think to do with my days, since I had a deadline of about six months after I started my research. Luckily, that deadline was extended twice, but I spent more time researching, writing, and worrying about making the deadline than pursuing any interests I vaguely remembered having before I began that book.

I can't do that this time with Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies. It can't be the center of my universe and all I live for, even with my personal deadline, beginning on March 21, my birthday, of being published again by the time I'm 30.

So I'm reading other books at the same time, such as Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon (Mallon does what Ann Beattie couldn't do in Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life: Bringing vast personalities and emotions to the historical figures of the Watergate scandal. He doesn't dwell on them endlessly like Beattie did with Pat Nixon, without doing anything with her), and I'm of course thinking about Las Vegas and Henderson, intending to also read soon the books I have about Vegas, and I'm also thinking about New Mexico. I want to travel throughout that state in the years to come, and I want to know what New Mexican culture is like. I want to know what binds Natalie Goldberg, my first writerly influence through her books, to Taos, New Mexico. (I think that's what planted New Mexico in my mind when I was 10 and 11.)

I want to know as much of its history as I do Las Vegas's and Henderson's. I want to hear music by those who are so entrenched in New Mexico, as residents, who have absorbed the land, the light, the weather, the sounds, the places, the populations, everything. And the music is what I'm pursuing first.

I found one website called Mitch's New Mexico Music Connection, with listings of musicians who embody various genres. There's a lot of them to explore here, and through them, I'll also be learning about other cities in New Mexico besides Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos.

And then I found the website for KANW, 89.1 FM, New Mexico Public Radio in Albuquerque. In the middle of the night, they've got "New Mexico Spanish Music" running for 3-4 hours, seven days a week. And there's also NPR's "Morning Edition," "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, and every Monday morning, a half-hour program called Report from Santa Fe, about important issues emanating throughout New Mexico, the audio from the televised interviews.

There was one show on the KANW schedule that seized me, one that's not even local to New Mexico.

There are some shows that don't require that you listen to them in a certain place. I think that's true of most radio shows online now, but take the example of my family and I listening to Las Vegas radio stations from here in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California. We can hear them, they come in clear, but it's not the same. There's a big difference between listening to them on the radio in the car from which you can see the tower of the Stratosphere Casino and Hotel from afar, and listening to them in a neighborhood and surrounding area that has clearly given up on itself, where people just want to be left alone and don't want to do anything to make their community more livable. I would make an effort if I felt like this was my community.

This is why I rarely listen to the John Tesh Radio Show online or find a station in the U.S. that's playing it at that very moment. I discovered it in Las Vegas. That's where I want to hear it. That's where it means a great deal to me.

But what I found on the KAFW website is really something. It seems like an anachronism with the wide availability of audiobooks, but it feels like a calm oasis in the midst of the noise and rush of what we are: It's The Radio Reader, hosted by Dick Estell, who has been doing this since 1964, taking over from previous figures who had kept this going since 1936. 75 years now.

For half an hour each day (though he records a week's worth of shows at his home in East Lansing, Michigan), Estell reads from a book. That's it. That's as simple as it gets. Tomorrow, on radio stations in 16 states (including New Mexico), he'll begin reading The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. That'll last until March 28, and the next day, he'll begin The Litigators by John Grisham, taking him nearly to the end of April.

This is what Estell does. He reads to people. They turn on the radio and they listen to him read. The website claims a listenership of over one million. And this is how he does it now, recording on a laptop, and uploading it to a program that distributes his show to the radio stations that put him on the air.

I'm always fascinated by what people devote their lives to, be it fishing, or pinball, or culinary pursuits, or endless road trips, or diners, or reading books to people on the radio. I loved reading about the people profiled in Killer Stuff & Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton, who devote their lives to antiques and flea markets. Antiques are what actor Barry Nelson (The first James Bond in a visual medium, in 1954 on CBS in Casino Royale, and Captain Harris in Airport, as well as the manager of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining) devoted himself to after he retired from acting. I love books like Stanton's because here I am, a writer and voracious reader who loves Jeopardy!, The Big Bang Theory, The West Wing, movies, the video game Galaga, pinball, and so much else that would flood this entry out of its space, and here are these other people, in other states, who live their lives quite differently, either in antiques or some other pursuit that keeps them living every day.

And I think about Dick Estell in the same way. There's nothing on the website that indicates why he does this, but it looks like he's made a good life from it, and that's what matters most. Here I am, looking over this entry again and eyeing a book on Amazon called Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey by William Least Heat-Moon, and there in East Lansing is Estell, perhaps set on another recording session in the morning, possibly reading more of The Litigators, if he isn't done with it already. The world will forever interest me that way.

Addendum at 11:35 p.m.: I mentioned fishing, and a few minutes ago, I found a blog through Google called Southern New Mexico Explorer, about one guy's experiences fishing, hiking, and camping in Southern New Mexico. I am not that adventurous, so I will happily live vicariously through him. I will also read every single New Mexico blog I find.


  1. I love the footwork and research done here. I'd love to have Estell's job, because I think it suits me. I love reading to people, and I do audio pod-casts now. I might throw in a short story and see how it goes over.

    1. Where can I find these podcasts? I want to hear a few.