Punctuation of Silence
Sports talk radio, music journalism, and a refreshing dose of peace and quiet

by Lee Abraham

There was a time when I could listen to music all day and all night. Usually at high volume. And although most of my hours these days still have a musical soundtrack, I find myself listening to a lot of sports talk radio. Especially during the afternoons. Mornings are another story. My mornings are reserved for easy-on-the-ear soundscapes and melodic, instrumental jazz. Stuff I can enjoy without becoming distracted by its charms. Or lyrics. Morning is when I write. Maybe it’s different with you, but I have a hard time navigating my way through a sea of verbage when somebody is speaking or singing. Part of my mind wants to listen. And unfortunately, I just can’t spare the brain cells.

Things are going well when I suddenly realize I’m writing in silence. Totally wrapped in the energy loop between my creative imagination and well worn word processor, I lose track of sound easily. Just sorta happens. One minute I’m staring at a blank computer screen, savoring a fresh cup of java, and maybe a nice, warm, whole wheat bagel with cream cheese as a little Mickey Hart or Sun Ra shimmer through the air, and before long, words begin to flow. Slowly at first and then in waves. Next thing I know, the only sounds I hear are my fingers hitting the laptop keys and the birds chirping outside my window.

Sometimes I need to inject more energy into the loop, so I’ll play another CD. Other times I’ll just keep pounding away. Call it the ‘punctuation of silence.’ Taken in doses, a vacuum of structured audio stimuli allows my creative momentum, which music propels into motion, to find its own direction. Its own message.

Either way, after a few hours of working in peace and quiet or to a backdrop of music, a stiff neck, sore back, or hungry belly, will invariably seize control of my mind and demand immediate attention from the rest of my body. That’s when I’ll take a break, get away from the computer, and click on the good old AM radio. It’s an occupational hazard. As someone who is not only passionate about music and fascinated by its role in this crazy thing we call the ‘human condition,’ but also makes a living writing about music, there’s a risk of burn out. Of musical overload. And where silence allows my thoughts on music to come full circle, sports talk radio allows me to step outside the ring. It’s a safe haven. A place where I can’t ‘talk shop.’ Plus, I grew up playing and watching sports, so listening to people talk about sports is a natural progression. Time management, not to mention aches and pains, make the transition inevitable.

Here in San Diego, we are fortunate to have one of the best sports-talk radio stations in the country with "Extra Sports - 690." I’ll usually tune in around the noon hour to find out what Steve Hartman and ‘Philly’ Billy Werndl, AKA the ‘Loose Canons,’ are arguing about, and then at 1:00, it’s time to tap into the rock star energy of Jim Rome’s nationally syndicated radio program, "The Jungle." For those of you who are not familiar with Jimmy ‘Van Smack’ Rome, the self proclaimed ‘Pimp In the Box’ is a very funny guy, with a sharper intellect than the typical sports journalists. OK, so that’s no big deal - trust me though, Rome is worth a listen.

Next up is Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton in the ‘drive time’ slot from 4pm to 8pm. What a character! I started listening to the ‘saw’ in the mid ‘80s when I lived in Arizona, and he did a sports talk show there at the time. Hacksaw made the move to SoCal 15 years ago, and I was totally psyched to find him on the local airwaves here when I rolled into town for the first time a couple of years ago. This guy is a sports encyclopedia. Not just football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, but auto racing, horse racing, track and field, soccer, boxing... name it, he’s the expert. Just ask him. "I am bleeping brilliant!," says the irrepressible ‘hack’ at least once or twice a night. And ya know what, he’s right.

Like I said, listening to this stuff when I’m writing, or even reading, doesn’t work for me. And I agree, you can’t really party to it, and there’s no point even discussing going out for a night on the town, or a weekend of camping, to check out some sports talk radio live and in person. But if I’m cooking up a batch of my world famous catfish stirfry, some other culinary concoction, or just doing whatever around the apartment, sports radio can be a nice change of pace. I’ve even been known to tune in sports radio on the road. Especially on a long drive. I don’t know about you, but after four or five hours of listening to -anything-, I need a break.

And that’s the point. Sometimes the closer I get to something, the more I need to get away from it for a little while. Even something as important as music. Helps unclutter the mind and keep things in perspective. Plus, that way I also get to hear the birds chirp every once in a while. ###