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Friday, 12 April 2013

If Video Killed the Radio Star, Smartphones Put My Transistor on Life Support

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

I’m not ashamed to admit it — I still use a transistor radio.

Transistor+radio%2C+tumblrDGogertyIt’s about the size of a cellphone and it offers a few more features than the pocket version I had on the farm in the 60s. But it’s not much different from the device that provided news, weather, sports and tinny pop songs in the Dick Clark era.

I blame two things for my addiction — the farm and Dad. Along with the prayer before the meal, the noon farm report was sacred ground for Dad. He could hold a decent conversation and keep us boys from flicking peas at each other while simultaneously listening to farm interviews on a scuffed up transistor held together with a strip of duct tape.

In later years, Dad’s stab at an exercise routine included brisk walks around the farm but it was really an excuse to listen to ag reports. He may be the only exercise walker who ever wore five-buckle boots and had a transistor propped to his ear.

He claims his habit began as a kid when his family huddled around a big radio console to hear Dick Tracy dramas, Louis-Schmeling championship fights and the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic.

I inherited the affliction early. My gateway experiences were innocent enough — I’d take a transistor to bed on Christmas Eve to hear festive carols. Soon enough, the Beatles invaded and disc jockeys became “cool” so we had to keep up with the trends.

On Saturday mornings we’d prop a radio on a dusty beam in the hog house so we could pitch manure to the beat of Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang. We might have a static-filled transistor in our pockets while we walked bean fields or sat on a tractor cultivating corn.

By age 15, I was still snuggling up at night with a transistor but now I was catching the 10:00PM, top-three countdown from WLS in Chicago. Nothing like falling asleep to the Stones singing 19th Nervous Breakdown.

Without internet or cable TV, radio was a pipeline to the outside world, and with the 50,000 watt AM stations of old, we could pick up “exotic” locations like Little Rock, Arkansas. A late night show called Beaker Street featured spacy sound effects, a spacier DJ named Clyde Clifford and music ranging from early Hendrix to Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

Radio was our ESPN in those days and even though college basketball and football were popular, baseball was king. During October, school boys rigged up hidden transistors and ear cords to catch a few innings of World Series play during riveting English class lessons about diagramming sentences.

But transistors are fading into the analog sunset. Many young people have no idea what one is. And why should they? Smartphones and other devices give them YouTube, XM, Pandora and other online options.

If today’s big-box, electrical stores have any radios at all, they’re usually on an endangered species shelf in the back behind the last three-pack of VHS tapes.

I too enjoy digital sounds but I haven’t completely kicked the transistor habit. Mine is small enough to carry while jogging or shove in a pocket during yard work sessions.

To true addicts, transistors are almost spiritual. Dad and I agree — we’d like a transistor sent along with us when we move into the next life. Dad wants it to keep up with the grain markets and hog prices. I just want one handy for the next few hundred years of World Series games in case the Cubs finally win one.

That might be enough to bring anyone back from the dead.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Fine story, Dan.

I use one too. It's a little larger than a pack of king-sized cigarettes.

I like to listen in the early morning, as I drink my first cup of coffee, sitting on a stool at the island in my kitchen I listen to the local station, wqhile IO drink my first cip of coffee, sitting at the island in my kitchen, even though I could turn on the PC across the room.

It's like a cozy chat with an old friend.

Dan, I had a terrible time finding a transistor radio to give as a gift to my husband.
The clerks didn't know what I was talking about. My husband says it was a great gift, but then, he was a DJ in the very old days of radio!

I saved my allowance money for a year to buy a $60 shortwave radio to listen to at night. BBC and VOA were my night time fare, but the best was listening to a station out of Buffalo NY that played Rock n Roll all night.

Sadly, mine was a tube set. Tubes ruled in the late 50's.

LOL!!! Always gotta remember the Cub factor (as I pay homage to the late great Mike Royko who made me a Cubs fan as well as a Tribe fan. I just can't win)

Dan - I bought my first transistor radio when I was in the Coast Guard in 1961. I paid around $50 for it (around $500 in today's dollars!)

I used to listen to WWVA in Wheeling West Virginia to keep me awake while walking on guard duty at night. (Probably against the rules!)

The only place that I can find that still sells them is Radio Shack. I use it to get important things like ball scores when hiking or sailing! - Sandy

Hi Marc, Marcy, Warren, Kay & Sandy; Thanks for the comments & concrete images from the past. My brother bought Dad and me a Sangean DT-200X online; $60 or so; it's been a good radio in case any of you have trouble finding transistors. BTW, Kay, I too started as a Cleveland fan, with Colavito and Piersall. Cubs & Cleveland--Holy Cow, 200 years of futility certainly builds character. Dan Gogerty

What memories! I used to lay awake at night listening to WLS, waiting for my favorite song with my transistor radio lying right next to me. It was such a wonderful time to remember and you brought it all back. Thank you!

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