Do You Remember Your First And/Or Favorite Radio?
Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found on the turntable, in the CD player, or the MP3 player. While the focus of this blog generally revolves around vintage Country albums and singles, the truth is, the vast majority of us got our first taste of music, be it Country, Top 40, or another genre, via the radio. Back in the day, when radio was good (in the minds of many of us); utilizing mostly live and local programming, along with live souls in studio that actually exuded personality, performing bits and passing along information of events, concerts, public service announcements, and weather interspersed with the hits of the day and commercials that actually were effective and not annoying. Remember? Those hits weren’t all loaded onto a computer, as they are now, the jocks played them directly off vinyl, or in some cases, tape cartridges that looked like consumer’s 8-tracks, but were differently constructed and much more sturdy, as well. Depending on the format, I’m sure there are still some call letters from those days that tug your heart strings of a time passed; WIRE, WMAQ, WSM, KVOO, WBAP, WWL, KWKH, WWVA, WHN, and WJJD are just some of the classic Country call letters from those times. Or, if it was Rock ‘n Roll you were into in those days, no doubt calls like WIBG, WFIL, KFRC, KHL, WABC, WLS, WCFL, WKIX, and WSAI will have that same effect.
This brings us to the crux of this post (as well as the title), Do you remember your first and/or favorite radio(s)? What was it’s shape, size, style? Perhaps a long-ago Christmas or Birthday gift, or a purchase made with your lawn-mowing or paper route money. Or maybe a part of a larger system that, depending on the era, could have included a turntable, and a tape deck of some kind (reel, 8-track, or cassette). I do remember my first radio. I believe it was a Birthday gift around 6 or 7 years old, an AM transistor radio in the shape of Snoopy. As I recall, it had that tinny sound that was common to cheap transistors of the era. As for reception, I recall it pulled in the normal area stations, though at that age, I really didn’t pay much attention to such things.
While Snoopy was radio number one, my favorite radio didn’t come until several years later, and that’s the radio pictured below, a 1936 (so I’m told) General Electric AM and shortwave radio that was purchased, new, by my Great-Grandparents Parker, and has remained in the family to this day. Let me tell you the history of this venerable receiver of amplitude modulation signals. Though the exact date and location where this radio was purchased, has been lost to history, it’s relatively safe to say that it was purchased somewhere in Eastern Indiana. The radio, according to the memory of my uncle, sat in the left corner of the living room in their farmhouse. He recalled to me, one time several years ago, that as a youth (this would have been in the 1940’s), he remembered visiting several times and sitting in front of that radio, listening to shows like The Shadow and Mr. District Attorney. I don’t know, but I am guessing that the radio remained a part of my great-grandparents’ living room, at least until the arrival of TV in the early 1950’s. Whether it happened when the first TV set arrived, or sometime later, the old radio eventually found itself packed away in the attic, placed in front of the door, where it would remain, silent, until the 1980’s.
I never knew my Great-Grandpa Parker, as he passed from this world a year before I was born. However, my Great-Grandma lived into the 1980’s, and with her living next door to my grandparents on land farmed by my dad, visits were frequent.
It was one of those visits, sometime in the late 1970’s, likely still grade school age, when my Grandpa Reece took me over to my Great-Grandma’s house, up the stairs, to a room where along the far wall sat another fascinating piece (and, again, one still in our family), a vintage Victor Talking Machine. It was a semi-regular occurrence whenever I was there, to go over and spin a few records on the old machine. And it was one of those visits, when either I inquired as to what the door next to the Victrola was, or my Grandpa just wanted to show me what was behind the door, which turned out to be the radio. After that first sighting, all ensuing visits to the upstairs room at my Great-Grandma’s always included a peek at the old radio. Of course, each time included a request to try it out, but at that point, the radio was in some need of a little TLC.
It was Christmas, around 1980 or so, when I got one of the best-ever holiday surprises (ranking right there with the Lionel train of a few years prior or the stereo system of a few years later). My Grandparents had taken that old radio and had it fixed, and then presented it to me as a Christmas gift. Still remember seeing it in front of their tree. That old radio, by then nearing it’s fiftieth year of existence, now ready to once again, do what it was designed to do, entertain. And entertain it did. Great sound for it’s age, and even today, the best radio I’ve had for DX’ing, the old beast kept chugging right along, whether it was listening for an hour or two, or all night, such as it did my senior year, the night I typed my term paper; tuned to WSM, as I recall. Even a house fire in 1986 couldn’t kill it.
In recent years, the radio has again sat silent. Due to space limitations, it has sat in storage, most of the past four years, biding it’s time until when it would again get it’s chance to catch those signals from all around. And today, for the first time in at least four years, it did just that. I took it out of it’s place in storage and with my 6 year old daughter tagging along, took it out to the shed, where I gave it a quick dusting before plugging it in and firing it up. As old tube radios do, it took a couple of minutes for the sound to become audible, but sure enough, there it was. Now 75 years old, the beast easily found WWNC and WISE, here in Asheville, blasting out that solo speaker as crisp and clear as many radio’s half it’s age. Even the bland, boring corporate radio of today seemed to sound a bit better on the old GE. We are preparing for a yard sale, this weekend, and I had actually given thought to putting it in the sale. However, after hearing the radio, again, along with the urging of my daughter, who thinks it’s neat, I have decided that isn’t happening. This old fellow will stay with us.