As Alum Ben Fong-Torres Nears 70, Radio Memories are Made of This

Tuesday, January 06, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- We didn’t have the money to buy a record player, so our first phonograph was one that my brother Barry had patched together. He got a children’s 78-rpm model at a thrift shop and honed the capstan down until the speed decreased to 45, then mounted it onto a cigar box. No matter how funky the hardware, I loved acting out my fantasy. I had a knack for mimicking voices and DJ patter; I learned the rhythms of Top 40 radio; and I practiced the art of the talk-up — that is, talking over the instrumental beginning of a song, concluding just before the vocal begins. I’d even tape commercials and jingles off the radio to insert between records. You might think that I was an unemployable nut. But I would become a reporter and editor at my college daily (at San Francisco State) and then, just a couple of years after graduation, an editor at Rolling Stone, the rock publication that, soon enough, became the arbiter of all that was hip.