According to Wikipedia, the radio probably cost me about twenty dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that’s well over a hundred of today’s dollars. My memory is foggy on where the money or the radio came from, but having one of those little Zenith radios says something about my interest in technology.
Jamestown had only two radio stations in those days. KSJB and KEYJ. Both are still on the air, but now there are many more. That summer I listened to a few baseball games, but they didn’t hold my interest. Roger Maris was almost a local boy, but that wasn’t enough. KSJB played top ten hits, which did catch my interest. I collected their weekly Billboard Top Ten sheets for years, saving them for decades. It took a while for me to get my first RCA 45 RPM record changer, which allowed me to start buying those top ten records. Nat “King” Cole got the honors of the first record I ever bought: Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.
KSJB had much more than music. One of my grandmother’s favorite shows was the Reverend N.E. McCoy. He preached in the small town style. No asking for money, as not many people in our town had much for money. Most important, from Grandma’s point of view, was McCoy’s hospital visits. He would make the rounds of the hospital in the morning, visiting with all the patients, then give everyone in town an update on his noon-time radio show. From what I know about privacy and HIPAA laws, he wouldn’t have much to talk about today.
Table radios held my interest much more than transistor radios, primarily because I could take tubes out of the bigger radios. They were also easier to repair. Circuit boards didn’t fit my pre-teen skill set very well. I had dozens of radios over the years, and repaired sets for family and friends. I had graduated to televisions by the time Star Trek first aired in 1966.
Even better than table radios were the old console radios (free-standing wood cabinet furniture). They were manufactured in the thirties and forties when shortwave radio was a big thing. I strung a long piece of wire from the house to the garage by the alley, probably fifty or sixty feet away. That provided entertainment from around the world, but I was more fascinated by the North American AM radio stations. At night the radio could tune in clear channel stations from across the country, WLS, KOMA, and the North Dakota station, KFYR. Each month I read through White’s Radio Log to help my search for other stations to try for. The stations would only identify themselves a couple of times an hour, so it took a lot of listening to verify that I actually was listening to the station I was hunting for.
I insisted on having a radio on in the house for years, and I still love to have the radio blaring when I’m in the car. It’s not top forty or baseball that I listen to now, NPR news and classical music are more interesting.
The whole business with the Walkman seemed to pass me by. When they first appeared on the streets in the early eighties, they appealed to me, but not much. Cassette tape quality left me cold. When ear buds first became popular in the later eighties I snapped them up and even started listening to the radio on my walks again.
When portable MP3 players became popular in the late nineties, I was hooked again. Combining MP3, portable players, and downloadable TED Talks did it. Now it wasn’t just the endless drumbeat of rock music, the drone of news people talking about the latest disaster, I could actually learn something.
Each of those generational events; from five-transistor radios to console radios, to television, Walkman, and portable MP3 players; left me thinking we’d hit nirvana, perfection. How could life get any better?
Then Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and my life changed again. Now my pocket phone has hundreds of hours of music that I never listen to, and every day there are more hours of podcasts automatically downloaded to the phone. On my walks I can alternate between listening to nature along Cascade Creek with listening to MarketPlace, or a BBC program like Start the Week. It’s even better than radio, because I can listen to what I want at my pace. If something around me catches my eye, I can click pause and take in the real world. When reality becomes too mundane, it’s back to the podcast.
Radio, computers, learning: they have been important to me. After they came together in the podcast ecosystem, I loved it. Can there be anything better? Yep, something better is coming, but I have no idea what could be better. That’s for the inventors to figure out for me.
I can’t wait.
Maybe we could meet for coffee and you could tell me what you’re waiting for? Maybe I could tell you about my time in the radio club in high school, how we broadcast things on KEYJ? Or, even better, I could tell you about my time working at KDSU with my first class radiotelephone license. Maybe not.