Snow Day

One of the biggest winter storms in several years is slamming a huge portion of the United States today. Kids are praying for snow days, businesses are closing early—and media outlets are overreacting. It’s a mystery to me why, up here in the snow belt, where winter comes shortly after Halloween every year, the local TV take on every big storm is one click north of panic. I tried summing it up on Twitter last night: “Snow snow snow oh my god snow everybody go out buy food stay home it’s the end snowstorm blizzard frozen death snow aggggggggh.”

Whenever I hear an anchor or reporter say, “If you don’t have to travel tonight, please don’t,” I remember a wise old newsman who said, “It’s not our job to tell people to stay home. If the cops or the weather service say that people should stay home, we’ll report it, but we don’t make the call on our own.” Our job was to tell people what was happening (or not happening), and not to take on responsibilities above our pay grade. We weren’t rigid about it, though—if you’d just spent an hour on your typically-10-minute commute to work, it was perfectly acceptable to say that on the air and let people draw their own conclusions. On that score, I’d take the word of a wise old newsman more seriously than that of a callow young local TV reporter who was in the sixth grade the last time there was a storm this big.

Looking over my Desert Island list, I find a couple of songs that remind me of the giant snowstorms of youth, the kind we always say we don’t get anymore. There’s Badfinger’s beautiful “Day After Day,” featuring George Harrison’s indescribably sweet guitar, Leon Russell on piano, and one of the greatest singalong lyrics the English language has ever known, which rode the charts in the winter of 1972. On snowy mornings back then, we were never allowed to stay in bed on spec, gambling that school would be called off—we had to get up and get ready. When the word came that school was closed, we were already prepared for the world of adventure that opened before us. We might go sledding, or play in the barn, or surround ourselves with toys in the bedroom or the living room. By 1972, I’d have spent a lot of time listening to WLS, because I never got to hear the midday jocks when I was in school.

“Can’t Get It Out of My Head” by ELO ran the charts at the very end of winter and into the early spring of 1975. I was a freshman in high school by then, and home life would not have been quite so idyllic as it might have been three years before. On a snow day, I would have been less inclined to go sledding by then, and not at all inclined to build hay forts in the barn. But I would have had the radio on through the middle of that winter’s snow days too, often the big console stereo in the room we called the sunporch, where the FM station I liked sounded so much better than it did on my little bedroom portable.

We love the songs we love because of the constellation of associations that accompany them. Snow-covered winter mornings home from school are not my only associations with “Day After Day” and “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” and not even the primary ones that make them Desert Island essential. But on this particular snowy morning, they’re the ones that matter.

6 responses

  1. Growing up in the northern end of the Snow Belt in Upstate New York, I certainly had my share of heavy snow.

    I’ve always said that I LOVED snow as a kid, but eventually grew to hate it. The defining moment that separated those two sides was when I was given the title of “Official Snow Shovel Operator” for the family. When it was just a way to get a day off of school, it was great. However, when getting it out of the driveway myself…I began to hate it with such passion that I now live in Florida and never need to deal with it again.

    In my school district when I was growing up, snow days were treated as serious. They were only used in those instances where the buses weren’t able to get out to the dairy farms to pick up students. As a result, there were days when a foot or more fell and we were still going to school because the plows got the outer roads done early enough. Therefore, I had a routine every morning during the winter: At 5 A.M., I woke up and looked out the window (since we had lake effect there, we never knew if it was coming) and knew immediately if I could jump back in bed before I froze or got into my layers of clothing.

    This brings me to the point of your post.

    Since I wasn’t ever going to be sure if school was going be in session, I kept a transistor radio inside my jacket and used the single earpiece to listen to the local radio station as I shoveled. That was AM 790, WTNY out of Watertown, New York. At the time (this was in the 1980s), it was still a “throwback” that played music as well as the news-related content because, like much else in life, the FM band was a little slow getting over to that area. However, since they played music while I was shoveling snow and waiting for any announcement that I can ease up…there are still some songs like “The Boys of Summer” (ironically), “Say Say Say,” “I Want to Know What Love is” and others that immediately bring to mind a vision of a snowbank when I hear it.

  2. For me, many of the disco hits of early ’79 — “I Will Survive,” “Y.M.C.A.,” “Le Freak” — are what I associate with huge snows because the winter of ’79 was especially bad in Chicago (and led to Bilandic’s failure to hang on to the mayor’s office). Don’t know why the disco songs particularly as opposed to the rock, ballad or other types …

  3. spot-on JB. The thing that gets me is our local newspaper puts every kind of storm in a type-face that used to be saved for JFK SHOT IN DALLAS or JAPS SURRENDER. Unbelievable. And yes, we’re getting hammered with the snow here, east of Macomb.

  4. During my first on-air winter, I made one of those “don’t drive” pronouncements, which prompted a call from the manager of a local department store (and an important station advertiser) who pointed out that they were still open. Point taken; from then on, it was “travel not advised or recommended” only when the highway department officially said so. That experience tends to make me a tad more forgiving. But I, too, have no time for the emoters who wail about the sky falling when half-an-inch of fluffy white is due.

    I was at a loss trying to come up with a winter-specific song memory earlier in the day, but a song playing on the radio during the drive home iced it: “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts. Hearing it as a recurrent on KDWB while parked at a snowy suburban shopping mall on that February day in 1973 convinced me that the sky had, indeed, fallen. Of course, I didn’t know that, since there were no Super Duper Doppler meteorologists around at the time to tell me.

  5. Every so often, during a newscast on a bad snow day, I’d say “just remember – you pay the first 500 dollars, or whatever your deductible is.” I agree with you, JB….it was never my job to tell people what to do. Just help them make the decision by providing information.

  6. I remember being stuck at Karen’s house during the blizzard of ’78. The FM soundtrack during those precious few days until Mass. was dug out were Dan Hill’s ‘Sometimes When We Touch’, that damn Queen song ‘We Will Rock You …’, Samantha Sang and ‘Emotion’ and the Little River Band ‘Happy Anniversary’. For years I couldn’t listen to them after that. Now day … eh … once in a while.

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