11:57:47 am on
Tuesday 23 Jul 2024

Uncle Ricky RIP
Matt Seinberg

In high school, probably 1974, radio air checks came into my life. Instantly, collecting air checks became my hobby. I didn’t realise, at the time, my hobby had important historical worth and I was a teen archivist.

Trading is the life-blood of radio air checks

In the seventies, there was no internet, no personal computers in every home or even cell phones; snail mail and telephone were the dominant technology of exchange. Whenever tapes traded, the traders always asked for names and addresses for still other traders.

That's networking in the 70s and early 80s, one snail-mail letter to one person at a time. With any luck, after a trade or two, we traded phone numbers as well as tapes. Talk of trades, instead of writing, became the modus operandi, which saved time.

In no time, I had contacts all over the country. Yet, for some reason, finding a reliable air check trader in Los Angeles was very difficult. There were sellers of LA air checks, but identifiable traders were chicken teeth.

In the late 1980, I let my air check trading efforts lag. In the late 1990s, I found new life in air checks. I had a lot of catching up to do. Many of my old trading collaborators remained on the internet and I had kept contact information for others.

I launched my website, bigappleairchecks.com, as a free site in 1998 and, later, as a full-blown website around 2000. Through my website, I heard from new and former traders as well as radio people looking for their own airchecks.

In 2002, I discovered Reelradio.com. I was in love! So many air checks, all free to hear. It was amazing. I wrote to the curator, Richard Irwin; most that knew him called him Uncle Ricky (above). Prior to Reelradio.com, which went on line 12 February 1996, Ricky had been on-air and programme director at KAFY-AM Bakersfield and KROY-AM in Sacramento, both in California.

I asked Uncle Ricky if I could donate some air checks to Reelradio.com. He replied with a big yes. I made him copies of some of my favourite air checks and mailed out those tapes.

Reelradio.com was a subscription site.

At first, an annual subscription was $12, then $20; renewal was not automatic, a new sign up was required each year. A few years ago, Uncle Ricky stopped using only scoped air checks, that is, with the music mostly removed; he used air checks that included music, which led to the additional cost of paying royalties.

Still, anyone that donated air checks could log in and listen, no charge. I also made some monetary donations over the years, as well air checks. It was only in the last couple of years that the subscription model went away and the site was open to everyone.

Here's the downside of the free or open model. Anyone could listen. Anyone could copy any air check and do with it whatever they wanted; some opportunists sold what they took from Reelradio.com. This made Uncle Ricky furious. With his health declining, there was no way he could re-encode all the air checks from RealAudio to MP3 or other formats, which afforded protection from downloaders.

Uncle Ricky did everything for Reelradio.com, himself. As early as 1984, he was writing music-scheduling software that ran on a Commodore 128; radio stations wanted all the coding he could do. He built the reelradio.com website from scratch. As his health declined, Uncle Ricky could do less and less for Reelradio.com. No one could easily take over such an idiosyncratic website; no one could get inside his mind.

For the final two years, of his life, all Uncle Ricky could do, with the help of a health aide, was bathe, dress and work for a brief time on his beloved website. Steve West, of airchexx.com, talked with Uncle Ricky regarding a takeover of Reelradio.com. Ricky didn’t think anyone could take over his custom-coded web site.

As of 1 May 2018, Reelradio.com is off line. The shutdown came with little notice and no fanfare. Fans lament the loss of Reelradio.com, but understand the circumstances.

On 7 June 2018, Uncle unexpectedly passed away. He was 67. His sister, Carol, posted the following on Facebook,

"Today has been a difficult one. My brother, Richard Irwin, passed away 10:30 am in Sacramento, CA. He loved radio since he was a kid. He started working, at age 14, at the WEGO radio station on Hwy 29. I'm sure some of you remember the station. His real baby was his web site reelradio.com, which he had to shut down recently due to declining health. It broke his heart. Please pray for his eternal rest.”

I was shocked when I heard about his passing. He was going to have an operation on his back that would restore feeling to his legs, feet and hands.

I wrote Uncle Ricky, in April, just to say, “Hello,” not expecting a response. I didn't get one, but at least I know that I tried. From what I read, many comments had the same theme: although Ricky had a temper and was very protective of Reelradio, he was also a very kind person and a good friend.

Raise your glass high.

We raise a glass of your favourite beverage to a one of a kind. He dedicated his life to radio and the best audio museum on the internet, Reelradio. You are missed Uncle Ricky.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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