Music touched an emotional chord in me that may have been different from most folks.
I was only twelve when I got exposed to it. I felt such a swelling up of sadness and joy as certain songs played on the radio. I’d sit for hours. Alone. Just me and an old-fashioned radio positioned on the kitchen table. I’d close my eyes and sing along, knowing the words to the most soulful and heart-wrenching music of the day. And when my folks got concerned, questioning my solitary activity, I’d leave the room, seeking another outlet, another radio in a secluded spot elsewhere.
There was one station that would play the top-20 of the week. A Black station, WDAS in Philadelphia. Not sure if the disc jockey was Georgy Woods, the “man with the goods,” or Jocko Henderson. “Puppy Love,” a song by a local group had just came out, and I’d call in everyday asking those in charge to play it. It got so popular for the North Philadelphia listeners, that it climbed all the way to number one, with my voice being used over the radio that week with one of the many call-in requests.
Didn’t know someone was taping all phone calls into the radio station at the time. Never heard my voice played back before, although I should have guessed something when I heard other fans speak via the box. This is in the days before stereo, the days of “Hi Fi,” whatever that meant. Reception was usually “not bad” on a good day, to “really bad,” depending on the time of the day or night.
The top 20 countdown had gone all the way to nineteen, and I felt rejected. I took it personal that my song, Puppy Love, by Little Jimmy and the Tops, never made it. I put my head down, cradling it on the arms that covered the table. I felt so low, the floor beneath looked mighty inviting for me to spend the rest of my Life.
And then I heard it. “This is Michael Contos,” a scratchy-sounding recording played over the radio. I froze. In shock. Nearly jumping from the chair, wanting so badly to run outside and shout it to the world that I was on the Radio! “That’s me, you’re hearing,” I wanted to grab people on the street and scream it into their faces. It’s my request they’re playing.
Puppy Love is Number 1!
It’s the most popular song of the week!
The request lasted just a few seconds. But the smile I get remembering that moment has lasted for years.
To top it off, I became a small celebrity when appearing in the eighth grade class at St. Ludwig’s Grade School in Brewerytown the next day. One of the most beautiful girls in the class, Diane Kleinschmidt, smiled at me and told me, rather confidentially, that she had heard me on the radio the night before. I was speechless. This gorgeous 12-year-old never looked in my direction before this day. Here, she was making eye contact with me in a way I had not felt before. On the inside. Or the outside.
She likes me, I thought. She really likes me.
Too late. She had started to date JoJo Guiliano, a guy that Philadelphia’s Rocky might have been modelled had Sylvester Stallone ever met him. Diane and he married and lived happily ever after.
So did my memory of Puppy Love and my brief moment in the spotlight.