The Pen-Pal letter

At the time, writing a Pen-Pal letter seemed like the dumbest thing on earth. But . . .

The Pen-Pal letter
At the time, writing a Pen-Pal letter seemed like the dumbest thing on earth. But . . .

– Radio London – June 25, 1965 – Stuart Busby/United DJs Collection –

You have a Pen-Pal. Her name is Fern. Fern Lives in London. You were assigned Fern by your Social Studies Teacher when the semester started. You were all assigned Pen-Pals. It had something to do with knowing about the world and the people in it. Your Social Studies teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer before settling in your school. She came with a lot of ideas – they all had to do with how small Planet Earth was.

And so you were assigned Fern. You thought it was beyond dumb and you couldn’t think of anything to write about. Sure, you know The Beatles were British and you saw The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan – but what do you write about to someone you don’t know from a place you never lived? It seemed weird.

So you agonized over the first letter; “hi. I live in Los Angeles. I live near the beach. I go to High School. I hate High school. Do you go to school?” And after a few more clumsy sentences you ended the painful experience, stamped an envelope and sent it via Air Mail to London.

After a few weeks you got an answer. First thing you noticed was how thin the paper was – it was all one piece; no envelope. It was an Aerogramme – you never heard of those. Second thing you noticed was how great Fern’s handwriting was – you didn’t write like her, no matter how hard you tried. Of course, she did misspell a few things and add a few words you never heard of; like Scouse and dodgy. But mostly it was better than you imagined. And getting to know the rest of the world maybe wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

A few days after that a small package showed up. It was also from Fern. In her letter she mentioned something about having a brother who had a tape recorder. You opened the package and a reel of tape safely tucked inside a box sat, patiently waiting for you to find something to play it on.

After much begging and pleading with your dad, who jealously guarded the family stereo, which never heard anything more than Mantovani at any given time, he let you listen to the tape because, after all, it was a school assignment.

From that moment on; that precise moment, your life changed. Not just a little – a LOT. Most of the music you never heard before, by groups you only read about in the KRLA Beat. This was the real thing – this was wonderful – this drove your father straight up the wall and it was the beginnings of World War 3 at your house. You don’t care. You are going to be Fern’s pen-pal for the rest of your life. You are going to spend next Summer in London, even if you have to bag groceries every day after school to get there.

Life, this day in 1965, just got a whole lot more interesting.

And as proof of just how interesting, here is a little over an hour’s worth of Radio London, one of the infamous off-shore radio stations that broadcast music which the BBC rarely played but which became a regular staple in the diets of many a UK kid, exactly as it was heard on June 25, 1965 – creaky reception and all.




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