Childhood OCD, Adult Mental Illness, and AM-Radio

I listen to AM talk radio all day and all night — WCCO-AM in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I don’t hear much at night, but a few minutes is enough to put me to sleep.

WCCO-AM was my nighttime companion when my first sign of mental illness occurred. I was nine years old. The Minneapolis Star had just published excerpts of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Unfortunately, I read the section where the family was discovered dead.

From that night on, and for the next three years, I believe I started showing symptoms of OCD. I was obsessed with the thought that someone was going to break into our house and kill my family. The fear was with me every night, all night, whenever I was awake, which was frequently.

My mother did the best she knew how to do. She let me sleep with a fan blowing air on me and an old radio on next to me bed. It was about the size of a breadbox, painted a particularly ugly shade of yellow years before.

But I could tune it in to WCCO and hear the soothing voice of Franklin Hobbs, who did an overnight show called “Hobbs’ House.” He played music from the 40s and 50s. And he talked between songs in that comforting voice. Nothing really made me feel safe–the fear was there all the time–but Hobbs did help me get through those nights in the three years my obsessive thinking lasted.

I was always so grateful when 5:00 a.m. rolled around, and Hobbs handed the airwaves over to the wacky, legendary team of Charlie Boone and Roger Erickson. The night was over, and my family and I were alive.

Boone and Erickson occasionally had famous guests on. I’d heard that Morey Amsterdam was going to be on the next week, so I sent him a joke to read. A mouse was dancing on the lid of a peanut butter jar when one of his mouse friends asked what he was doing. “Well, it says, Twist to Open.”

I thought it was hilarious, but I never knew whether Morey shared my mirth on the air. I slept through his segment.

My OCD symptoms suddenly stopped when we moved to Central Illinois in 1968. Just gone. Poof. Different bedroom, maybe. A geographical cure. They resurfaced many years later when I was in my 20s and drinking too much. I felt trapped in my bedroom, so I slept on the floor in the living room a lot, sometimes right against the apartment door.

Again, a move to a new apartment made my symptoms go away. A few years later, I had my first psychotic episode

I read an article recently about how childhood OCD can be a precursor to mental illness later in life. Don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve experienced both.

I found an old recording of Franklin Hobbs a few years ago. His voice was nothing like I’d remembered. It was kind of tinny and fast. He was talking about sports, so maybe that accounted for the difference.I’ll always remember his speech the way it was in the early 1960s, when it gave me brief reprieves from night terrors.

I’ve lived in several places since, and never picked up that overnight radio habit again until I moved back to Minnesota 15 years ago. Now I listen to an overnight host whose politics differ from mine, and who takes a lot of calls from Midwestern insomniacs — no “music of your life,”and not a particularly soothing voice.

But it’s still comforting in a way, though I’m not afraid when I go to sleep these days. It reminds me of that long-ago voice that got me through those three years of fear.

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