The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, December 2, 2013

Remembering Transistor Radios ... Retro Monday Revisited

Plastic and metal, pocket-sized, featuring AM/FM dials on the later models, housed in black leather cases perforated over the speaker grill or case free, and sporting a earphone jack, the transistor radio brought news and music to people all over the world in cities and rural locations alike, anywhere the signal could be received. Introduced in the 1950s, these mighty midgets of the radio world, far smaller than their tubed ancestors relegated to tabletops and sturdy stands, could go anywhere. Their popularity exploded in the 1960s and 1970s. Their shapes changed, the colors to the plastic became ever more vivid and varied, figural radios appeared resembling characters from favorite shows, products for sale like cans of Coke, and even gas pumps.

I owned a number of these radios back in the day. They served many purposes. With that little earphone, I could listen privately to whatever music or shows I wanted to anywhere I went. There was liberation in that. Transistor radios that included tape recorders allowed shows to be recorded off the radio and kept for later use. Many rock and roll stations offered up commercial free music sets that had teens recording cassettes of free music off the air every day ... it was the early version of music sharing that caused all the stir recently. If you had some spare coin, you could of course buy professionally produced tapes to play in your machine as well (and with that entered the Sony Walkman to take over that particular market).

For me, one of the first big uses I had for a transistor radio was as a weapon to counter insomnia, which began to curse me when I turned thirteen. I discovered that a small transistor radio playing low beneath my pillow, set on a soft jazz station with an announcer with a silky smooth voice playing the mellowest of jazz between midnight and six in the morning was enough to sooth the savage mind and get me at least a few hours' sleep on restless nights.

One transistor radio changed my opinion of my ninth grade teacher. I had smuggled a small transistor radio into class and was listening to the launch of one of the last Apollo moon missions. My teacher saw I was listening to something, stopped class to ask me what it was, and when I told her it was the space launch, she asked me to remove the earphone so the whole class could listen in as history was made. I gained a new respect for her that day.

We had small rectangular transistor radios in black and silver, round and disc shaped radios in bright colors, and a round white model that looked to me like one of Discovery's pods from 2001 a Space Odyssey. On all of them, roll that wheel up or down and flow through the dial across all the stations available on the air. Late at night signals would drift far and wide. You might pick up a broadcast from many states away or from far flung nations.

With a little spare cash and a rectangular transistor nine volt battery, a portable world of entertainment was at your fingertips. News, sports, music, all held in the palm of your hand and ready to go with you wherever you went. It was liberating.

Then the technology morphed. Sony's Walkman gave you portable stereos. When digital players hit the market, the transistor radio that had been our friend for a few decades faded from the scene forever, relegated to the collector's market and eBay auctions. Here's to the technology that was, the portable technology that got us through the day way back when.

So ends Retro Monday ... for now.  

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