Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Paul Richardson: Memories of the transistor radio

(Paul Richardson's column, The Horse I Rode In On is published weekly in the Neosho Daily News and Seneca News-Dispatch and on the Turner Report.)

It was Christmas 1965 and I was the recipient of a most memorable gift. There were more to come in future Christmas celebrations, but this specific gift was one that kept on giving. A gold standard for technological devices of that era, the transistor radio could certainly have been defined as the Holy Grail for any pre-teen youth.

This was a pocket-sized transistor radio equipped with AM band only. At that time AM band was king. Major market stations covered the nation day and night while local stations maintained some regular business hours and then signed off throughout the night. It would be in the early ‘70’s before any FM band stations would be available.

During the day one would tune into a Joplin station or the local Neosho Station, KBTN, which in its later years was located in the building that now houses the Chamber of Commerce and NABIFI.

It was there in 1973 that the Tournament of Knowledge team of which I was a member lost to McAuley High. While we may have had some bias about an apparent discrepancy on the difficulty of questions posed to each team, it is extremely difficult to combat the psychological effect when the opposing team arrives with their squad of nuns in full habit. That match didn’t turn out well at all. But that is an entirely different story and we need to get back to the life changing impact of transistor radios.

The pocket-sized transistor radio was the epitome of portability. Small but powerful and clear reception complete with a speaker. One of the remarkable features was the earphone which silenced the built-in speaker. 

This was a single ‘bud’ earphone unlike the more sophisticated earbuds that come with every device on the market today. This earphone expanded the capabilities of the pocket-sized transistor radio beyond portable to stealth. 

If for example, you were a pre-teen in the Midwest where every parent listened to Country and Western music genre, one could plug in that earphone and indulge in some of that hippie music without incurring immediate disapproval. That is just an example. To delve deeper into that issue, names would need to be changed in order to protect the guilty.

The most common stealth operation, however, was to place the very small and portable radio under your pillow, insert the earphone and listen to the radio well into the night. Well into the night would have been defined as any hour beyond the time established as a good and reasonable hour considered as bedtime. There was normally a little fluctuation in the bedtime hour dependent upon whether or not it was to be followed by a workday, school day, or church day. Therefore, one might be able to stretch that bedtime hour a little if it was Friday night.

Once nighttime operations with the transistor radio were initiated, the best offerings were the major market stations. There were some common threads among the subculture of nighttime radio bandits. 

During this season it was the heinous practice of listening to, just wait a moment, baseball! That’s right almost every person my age that engaged in this rebel movement listened to baseball. More specifically, everyone that I was acquainted with in this area followed the St. Louis Cardinals. The good wife was born in St. Louis and didn’t move out of the city until the age of ten. Having played softball when she was in high school, it was a given that she was going to be a Cardinals fan from day one. And so, she was and is. Our blood runs red, Cardinal Red!

Now you have sufficient information to assist in an understanding of my development. Such subversive and demented actions during childhood often lead down the dark pathways. Who knew that listening to play-by-play announced by Harry Carey during the silence of the night in a quiet Midwest town while the people in the adjoining room are under the impression that the bedtime hour has been honored with full compliance would be such a rebellious act? When your favorite team wasn’t playing…..well there is always that hippie music!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember my first transistor radio, but even more so remember my first crystal radio shaped like a rocket with the top of it acting as a channel changer when moved up or down. No batteries and used a earphone. Hung it on bed with earphone in ear and listened to rock radio station out of Chicago, WLS or the one out of Little Rock, Arkansas when living in KC. So cool and yet they still have them. At that time, 1950's, they cost about $1.98 with coupons from cereal or other things pushing them. Got to love science.