Dream a Little Dream

Growing up in Chinatown in Oakland, Calif., with much of my time spent at our family restaurant, I turned to radio for escape, through baseball, music, and countdown shows like "Lucky Lager Dance Time." When the Bay Area got its first Top 40 station in 1956, I was instantly hooked on "Wonderful KOBY." But then I had to leave town. My father became a partner in a fancy place in Amarillo, Texas, right on Route 66, and took me along. It was 1957, and I was 12. In the Panhandle, without the rest of our family, and often left alone in a bungalow behind the restaurant, I turned even more to the radio. I soon found KFDA, whose star deejay, Nick Reyes, played equal parts country & western and rock & roll. I heard as much Marty Robbins and Marvin Rainwater as I did Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Patsy Cline led to Sam Cooke and to the Royal Teens. Back then, Top 40 was a democratic jukebox; all were welcome. I soaked up the songs, the deejays, the jingles for Dr Pepper, Mead's Fine Bread, and Piggly Wiggly supermarkets. Away from Chinatown peers and the expectations that came with growing up Chinese, I allowed myself to think that one day I could be part of what I was hearing on the radio. It was a foolish notion, but when I was a kid, far away from home, discovering new things every day, you could dream such dreams.

Ben Fong-Torres returned to Oakland after a year, stayed tuned to the radio, and eventually became both an editor at Rolling Stone and a weekend deejay on KSAN, the free-form FM rock pioneer.

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