"Talk Radio" by Ham Martin. Credit: Courtesy of Black Rose Writing

“TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains” — Peggy Noonan

Radio. Remember radio? How about talk radio? We would wake up to it, switch it on after starting the car, lose ourselves in it, argue with it and sometimes let it help us realize our life is not as bad as we think.

In his debut novel, “Talk Radio,” author Ham Martin brings a daily radio program — station prompts, quirky commercials, theme music and all — to life. Even those annoying glitches are included for realism. Of course, the “talk” portions of the program are the real gems. Presented along a storyline that is both unique and unpredictable — just like radio can be — this book was a pure joy to read.

In a recent radio interview, Martin acknowledged he has been writing for a long time. Though he admits publication was an arduous journey, he also believes the length of time he devoted to the process was necessary for him to write this story. Ultimately drawing upon his own stint as a former talk radio host now living in a small village on the coast of Maine, Martin uses pure dialogue between people as the foundation for the story, and he does not disappoint. Turning each page is as if one has just turned the radio dial.

Is the small — and fictional — Maine coastal village of Frost Pound ready for change? No way, at least not for some of the residents who listen in daily to the local AM radio station WNWT — WOW, Now We’re Talking. But change does come when the station’s veteran morning host Fred Boyland is reluctantly forced into retirement by a stroke.

In steps Vivien Kindler, who is dealing with her own life changes. Recently divorced, Kindler is looking for something different when she impulsively interviews and is hired as Boyland’s replacement. Where Boyland was all about news via “ripped from the headlines,” Kindler looks to immediately make her own unique mark on the program.

Unnerved, intelligent and compassionate, Kindler begins by wanting to know everyone’s name rather than refer to her audience as “callers.” She challenges all who call in to be who they are, trust her and share themselves so that other listeners can know them fully. Martin’s protagonist is that quintessential person “from away” who is perceived as an outsider but who in the end only wants to make a difference by contributing to her community because she believes everyone has a story to tell.

Vivien: “I am just thinking out loud. Correct me if I’m all wet. It seems to me that what the storekeeper in the story typified was an individual who knew who he was, knew what he believed, was in no way insecure in the way he conducted his affairs, and was not tempted to change his ways and bend to new or foreign influences. Many of us find something reassuring in that, don’t we? Do you? We have a call. Good morning.”

Caller: “Now we’re talking. (click).”

There are fine exchanges between people passionate about the place they live, concerned with where things are headed and, yes, even some hilarious craziness seeps in. Every call-in radio program has its regulars, and “Talk Radio” is no different. George the Welder wants to talk about the news, but Kindler knows there is another story he must share; JJ’s Mom (aka Catholic Lady) is a loyal Boyland fan ready with a question and a challenge; Brownie is a delivery driver turned poet calling in to share new verse; Paul the Piano Tuner offers up thought-provoking Maine stories; and even Kindler’s affable predecessor calls in from time to time just to annoy.

The subjects discussed are as colorful as the regulars on the program: from school expansion projects, to volume of sand used on roads during winter, to lobsters making a break over land for fresh water, to questionable puffin counts, to high-school boys’ infatuation with their poetry club adviser, to fathers and sons making amends.  

There are also moments when two people connect, really connect. This story is not solely comical but offers serious and at times tender moments of dialogue mixed in with healthy doses of love and forgiveness amidst reconciliation. But it is the essence of friendship that drives the narrative and is accentuated by a poignant ending to the book.

This was a truly unpredictable enjoyable read for me, with page after page revealing bright nuances of humor sprinkled over hefty portions of political, cultural and societal observations, all challenged intelligently by Martin’s finely crafted conversations between his protagonist and a myriad of callers from all walks of life.

At the end of that radio interview Martin said what all writers hope to accomplish: “It is very satisfying to think that you have put something out to the world that is nice and will give people pleasure.”

No need to think about that one anymore, Ham Martin. This book has done just that.

“Talk Radio”

By Ham Martin

Black Rose Writing, 2021, soft cover, $20.95

RJ Heller, Down East contributor

RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer, author, an avid reader and an award-winning book critic who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. He lives in Starboard Cove.