1976: KFI All-American

In 1976, KFI was a good radio station. It carried the Dodgers broadcasts, had a real news department, and was part of the NBC radio network. KFI was part of the local community, too. Back then, a teenager could win his first chance to fly in an airplane from the station by taking a few minutes to enter a local essay contest.

Today, the station is just another brick in the wall of downsized corporate propaganda.

But wait! Take a look at the topic of the essay. “Why I am proud to be an American.” It’s not as if they said, kids, in 25 words or less, explain “What America Must Do to Live Up to her Promise.”

Back in the mid-1970’s, I spent a lot of time entering speech contests at places like the Lion’s Club. They would usually ask us to speak on topics such as “What the Flag Means to Me.” You’d always get a free meal, and often a pass to stay out of a period or two of class. Plus, it was a fine way to become a better speaker.

I remember once giving a talk to a room full of WW2 Vets, back in ’75 when I was a scruffy teenager, on the topic “What is Patriotism?” I recalled Hiroshima, our support for the Shah of Iran and Apartheid South Africa, and our recent expensive and humiliating defeat in Vietnam. I noted that my earliest memories included the assassination of President Kennedy, and that I got my driver’s license a few weeks after President Nixon resigned in disgrace. Looking out at the audience, I saw a lot of angry guys, including one who was holding an ash tray in his right hand as if he might be thinking of throwing it in my direction. “Patriotism,” I concluded, “is the feeling all of you have right now. You love your country and most of you defended it with your lives when you were only a few years older than I am now. I look around me today, and I feel the most patriotic thing I can do is to stand up and say that our country has lost its way…” (A different teenage orator won that particular contest.)

Back in ’75, when I won this extremely expensive, fun trip, I remember a friend being impressed with me for “giving them what they want, for a change.” Although obviously what I wrote was what they wanted, when one of my teachers gave me the KFI contest form, I approached the exercise sincerely. I like being challenged to express an idea in few words. At the speech contests, I figured the point was to be sincere, to challenge the audience rather than pander to it.

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