Gerald Gaule was just a boy when he had his first on-air experience in radio.
He was at the Clark County Fair in southwest Washington when he came upon a radio station disc jockey broadcasting remotely. Gaule, already a fan of radio who loved to listen to his shortwave and create radio shows at home, watched and listened to the DJ for two or three hours.
Eventually, the DJ noticed him looking on and asked Gaule if he wanted to cover for him when he took a break. Gaule got behind the microphone, interviewed fair-goers and played some records for a short time.
He then turned his early interest in radio into a career, working at stations along Interstate-5 from the Eugene-Springfield area to Longview and Kelso, Wash., both as an on-air personality and handling such things as programming and production.
About three years ago, Gaule began focusing on another radio-related endeavor, launching the American Senior Radio Network. The service — commercial-free and available online — provides news, information and educational programming, such as newspaper, book and magazine readings for seniors and people who are disabled and visually impaired.
Gaule, who owns the network and runs it out of his home near Vancouver, also broadcasts old-time radio programs, nostalgic music from the 1890s to the 1950s, and interviews with community leaders, health providers and others from the Portland-Vancouver area.
He was drawn to that mix of content because he sought to “do the best of both worlds” in terms of broadcasting nostalgic music and programs and current information and interviews.
“I try to do my best to serve the community,” he says.
Content for the radio network comes from a variety of sources, including an international service that produces audio readings for individuals who can’t read conventional print because of a visual, physical or learning disability.
Content also comes from Gaule’s own collection of old-time radio shows and recordings, which he has transferred to mp3s from cassette and other older formats. Among the audio recordings in his collection is that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicating Timberline Lodge and Bonneville Dam in the 1930s, projects that helped get Americans working again during the Great Depression.
In addition to his collection, Gaule obtains recordings, many of which are in the public domain, by exchanging them with other collectors online.
“I try and find something that’s rare or something that’s related to the Northwest,” he says.
Gaule likes to air a variety of shows, including adventures, comedies and dramas. One of the old radio shows he’s presented is “The Whistler,” which originally ran from 1942 to 1955.
He also takes his show on the road by broadcasting on Sunday mornings from a coffee shop in Vancouver, with interviews ranging from local authors and artists to civic leaders. His interviews also touch on subjects ranging from personal finance planning and health care to the science behind weather forecasting.
Gaule says he aims to bring content to his 50-and-older listeners that they “can relate to” and is “worthwhile to talk about. I try to bring something (to the airwaves) that affects them.”
Raised in Ridgefield, Wash., just north of Vancouver, Gaule as a youngster didn’t have his eye on becoming a doctor or astronaut. Rather, he wanted to be a DJ. He remembers as a boy listening on his shortwave radio to stations across the United States. Among the DJs who drew his interest was the famous Wolfman Jack.
From about age 7, Gaule bought radio transmitter kits at an electronics store, hooked them up to a home stereo and built “little radio stations,” he says. The signal would only reach as far as a block or so, but he had fun playing music for neighbors and interviewing friends.
Gaule, 53, studied radio in college, including attending broadcasting school. He did not earn a degree, but built his experience at radio stations as a volunteer and employee. His wife, Lisa, who works in the childcare field, is not involved with the radio network, but “supports me 100 percent,” he says.
Gaule, who is on disability and has a grown daughter, does not make money from the radio network and funds it largely himself, calling the endeavor a passion and point of pride. He stresses that the internet and other technology have advanced broadcasting and the ability to reach audiences.
He does do occasional “trades,” such as mentioning Fairway Coffee in exchange for the business providing space to broadcast his weekly public affairs program. One of his goals in the next five years is to obtain nonprofit status for the network.
He appreciates feedback from listeners, who’ve been encouraging. They also have helped shape programming, in part, with requests for live radio shows.
In December, the radio network featured “A Radio Christmas Carol,” which was presented at downtown Vancouver’s historic Kiggins Theatre by Washington State University, its Creative Media and Digital Culture Program, the Willamette Radio Workshop and Re-Imagined Radio.
Gaule says his network is Washington’s only radio reading service since one in Seattle went off the air a couple years ago. Portland has “Golden Hours,” an audio reading and information service where he once volunteered. He says he’s not trying to replace or compete with those services, but “to present the best information” he can.