If you listen to local radio stations in much of rural America, you might hear a host banter with a caller looking for help installing an oil pump in a Chevy engine. Another caller might be trying to trade a few bales of hay for a wheelchair lift. Maybe even a funeral for a cat.
These are “tradio” programs (short for “trade” and “radio”), where people buy, sell and exchange items or services – and, through such offers and transactions, give small glimpses of their lives.
In the age of websites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, trad — also called “swap shops,” “auction barns” and “supermarket posts” — adds an incredibly personal touch to the giving of goods and services that are both. a throwback to the days of exchange and cementing community bonds.
“In terms of tradition, it’s one step closer to a trusting relationship being built,” said Ethan Moore, 39, a traditional host at WSKV in Stanton, Ky., who remembers listening to a traditional program when his family moved to eastern Kentucky in 1992. It gives you an extra layer of convenience to be able to buy one at a time to an individual.”
The mechanics of a tradio program are simple: People call with an item or service to sell, exchange or find; the DJ tradition lets them make their pitches; and in voices often tinged with regional accents, they describe their items and provide a phone number or pick-up address to discuss more specifics with any listeners who may be interested.
Birthday announcements, prayer requests, yard sale announcements and the date and time of upcoming Kiwanis Club pancake breakfasts are also frequently phoned in, adding to the community portrait.
“It’s kind of old-fashioned when you stop and think about it,” said Mark Lefler, WYXI’s general manager in Athens, Tenn., and host of its business forum. “But that’s how communities are built, and that’s how you help each other.”
Many traditions have been around for decades, with some dating back to the 1930s. The success of these programs is tied to a number of factors, including charismatic hosts that people can meet, live and warm, at the local grocery store, and the eternal pull of hearing your neighbors (and being heard) on the radio.
In Athens, for example, Mr. Lefler, 72, or “Cousin Mark,” as he is known locally, has for decades treated his listeners like family, calling them cousins, aunts or uncles, depending on their age. “I have thousands and thousands of radio cousins!” he said.
And tradition provides an additional layer of trust and comfort than posting in the ether of the internet, where scams, dead ends and ghosts can be all too common.
“We’re a farming community, and these kids, when they start growing up, know that this is how grandpa got rid of things, or this is how grandpa found what he needed when he was in a pinch and couldn’t get it. it somewhere else,” said Deb Jackson, a business station host in Effingham, Ill.
“It’s a great way to meet new friends, and there’s always a bargain,” said Ralph Rockwell, 71, a longtime trad listener from Wolcott, Vt. “I hate paying list for anything. I’m always looking for a deal, what I call the diamond in the rough.”
The family nature of these radio programs also means that they are places where people, perhaps with few other resources, can come in a time of crisis.
“Maybe their house caught on fire, and they lost everything, and we just stop right there,” said Mr. Lefler, who says heartbreaking calls of catastrophic loss come in several times a year. “We give them as much airtime as possible. We say, ‘Okay, business mail family. It’s time for you to go get some money from your wallet or look in your closet. How about some pots and pans for these people?’”
Many items sought and sold on tradion are linked to the seasons. Mr Moore said that if you didn’t know when an episode of commercial mail had aired, it would be easy to tell from the items.
Early fall in eastern Tennessee brings glass jars and a bounty of produce for “putting” (preserving) season; spring is filled with requests for help clearing weed rows and ads for lawn mowing in Kentucky; and in Indiana, campers appear frequently during the middle of summer. Microwaves and other small appliances, along with auto parts, furniture, firewood and clothing are year-round frequent flyers in the shows.
Each program has its own rules about what can and cannot be sold. Some allow the sale of firearms, but not alcohol and water bets. Others carefully check the type of animals that can be called in. In Illinois, as fall peaks into winter, kittens are often matched with local barns to become farm cats, while puppies see the most action at the start of summer.
“Whether you’re from here and want to listen to it for the actual business value, or whether you’re just fascinated by, ‘Wow, people, really want to trade two rabbits for a shotgun,’ the whole barter system is still there. very much alive in tradition,” said Mr. Moore.
Sometimes, callers call with off-the-wall objects. Burial plots were available for purchase on KOFO in Ottawa, Kan. In Monticello, Ind., Jaime Valle and Brandi Page, who are sisters and the hosts of Super Trading Post, remember when their father bought a parrot that turned out to be. more trouble than it was worth.
“It hated men,” Mrs. Valle said. “My father would let it go and it would bite his ears. Terrible mascot for the radio station.”
Tradition seems to appeal to younger people as well. Some stations are using new tools to attract a listening audience, and millennials are increasingly looking for a more affordable (and plentiful) place to live in Central America. Mr. Moore says about 110 to 130 people participate a day via tradition, using calling and texting as a way to field dispatches while also putting each episode on an Apple podcast. He credits the area’s burgeoning rock climbing community as fuel for the next generation of trail callers and listeners.
“We see people using tradition who don’t necessarily speak like the region, so you immediately know they’re not from here, which used to be bad because they were preparing to prank you,” Mr. Moore said, noting. that his program was pranked by “The Howard Stern Show” on SiriusXM.
The core listener population skews older, however, and hosts are sensitive to how important their programs have become to individuals who may feel alone and isolated as they age.
“For some of these people, this is more than just buying and selling something,” Mr Moore said. “This is the community they get, this is how they talk to someone, and this is how people call and talk to them.”
Mike Henderson, 69, is a frequent commercial station switcher in Niota, Tenn., who has listened to WYXI for 30 years. He said it all depends on the connections he builds.
“There are a lot of characters that call the show. You get a mental picture of what they look like, and you form opinions about people’s looks,” he said. “It’s a human interest show, really.”
Audio produced by Sarah Diamond.