Let’s talk about Obsession now. Not the cologne. The mental kind.
For me, I think, it is Radio. Probably somewhere there’s a perfume with that name and late 50s and older men (and probably some women too) drool whenever they catch a whiff of it. There’s hints of silicon and ozone in it, I would imagine. But seriously…
I can remember the first radio I ever owned–and by “I” I mean “we”, as in my older brother Michael and I, we pretty much had joint ownership of the thing. It was a deep red plastic affair with a large central dial and a smaller knob that controlled the power and volume. Both of these knobs were a sort of an ivory shade…they were probably white at the start of their service life but took on the darker color later by residing in a smoking household. As a past smoker I am trying to imagine my lungs having had that shade once.
I have no certain idea as to where this thing came from, but I can offer a pretty good guess: the Dump. Seriously. Our grandfather was Commissioner of Public Works in our town, and his office was where the town’s vehicles were stored…which happened to be the home of the town’s “sanitary landfill”. Every now and again useful items were discovered amongst the detritus, and more often than not they ended up repurposed in our house. It’s amazing what people will throw away. This radio worked just fine, so why throw it away? Perhaps it was destined to end up on our dresser. I like to think that anyway.
Or maybe it was because it wasn’t that good of a radio in the first place. I seem to recall it could only get two stations with any regularity, and those were WJOB (Hammond, Indiana) and WLTH (Gary, Indiana). By strange coincidence, our beloved Aunt and surrogate mother Judy worked at both of those stations at one time, which was a pretty cool thing. Mike and Kat and I never lacked for records, that was for sure, and many were the times we played as DJs at GIUS Radio, which stood for Griffith Indiana United States. The notion of call letters was familiar to us apparently, but the way they were assigned was not…but, we were young, we had a record player (with pennies on the tone arm, of course) and we had imagination.
So back to Old Red. Two stations, which enabled us to listen to the latest of the Jackson 5 (hey, Gary, remember?) and the school reports. Oh yes, we would wake up in the morning and turn on Old Red to find out whether or not school was open. Ours didn’t close often, because Grandpa was damnably good at his jobs, one of which was to keep the streets free of snow. But it did happen, if rarely, and oh those frabjous days! For it did snow in northwest Indiana. Sometimes it snowed a lot. One year (67? 68?) so much that I was for the first and last time able to dunk a basketball, just because I could climb the snow pile in front of our garage and simply drop the ball in the hoop. Really, we did have that much snow that year.
Well, one day we switched on Old Red, waited for him to warm up (for you had to do that with that set) and…nothing happened. No familiar warm electric smell, no clicking, no nothing. Dad took him to a friend who had a radio business who delivered the bad news…a vacuum tube had gone bad. Ordinarily not a big deal, tube testing machines and new tubes were in most grocery stores those days…but the tube needed was no longer being made. So Old Red made his final transition to the Dump, and this time there would be no Glorious Repurposing. And Mike and I were out one radio.
I suppose we both had pocket transistor sets next. I remember a couple, mostly just AM…FM hadn’t really hit its stride yet. We’d listen to WLS or WCFL out of Chicago then…the tunes of the day being spun by names like Larry Lujack (before he became “Superjock”) or John “Records” Landecker. We would religiously collect the top 40 sheets that were delivered weekly to the local dealers…weirdly, a stationary store was the best source for tunes in those days. That and the library…really, our library had some pretty far-thinking music, and if they didn’t have it in their collection, they could always request it from another branch. Mike did that a lot. He was into Dylan and Sparks and then Brian Eno way before anyone else caught on. He was mostly doing this because by this time we had come into possession of a radio that also contained cassette player/recorder, a hand-me-down from our Dad, who always had the latest and greatest. Thus when something later and greater came around electronically, we’d usually get hold of its previous incarnation. So eventually this came around:
Now we could record music right off of the radio! Wow! No stereo, but we could live with that. And of course there was the novelty of recording our own voices. Oh, there was a lot of that going on. I seem to recall a comedic version of the Bozo show being done at one point or another.
Somewhere along the line, another hand-me-down turned out to be a Bell & Howell “Recordall”. Under its beige cover it looked like this:
Imagine! A mini turntable and a cassette player/recorder, as well as a small microphone hidden between the two! The coolest part of this was that the cassette recorder drew directly from the turntable sound…meaning you could effectively copy an LP. High cotton indeed for the early 70s! This meant that the home taping and mix tape boom that was to come was effectively presaged by my older brother. Who was, and remains, one of the coolest people I know…
Now this amazing machine did have one downside…no radio! But by then there was a new rage: clock radios. And being as we had moved by then and Mike and I finally had separate rooms…and we were deemed responsible enough to wake ourselves up in the morning to get ready for school. it was time for new radios! Mike of course wanted a proper stereo (which meant that I eventually inherited the Recordall, which I carried even into my Marine Corps years) but I opted for a GE clock radio, the kind with the flip numbers that was so popular back then. Through the wonder that is the Internet I have found that the model number was 7-4315, and if I wanted to get one today, I could still do so…amazingly, they can still be found on ebay! That clock was my best friend for many, many years. I even cracked it open and installed an earphone jack so I could listen to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater without disturbing Mom and Dad, whose bedroom was directly beneath mine.
Oh, the memories! Some mornings it was so cold in my room, and the bed was so warm…I would just lie there and listen to the gentle “snick” sound of the little leaves flipping, marking the minutes till eventually there’d be a somewhat louder click and either the radio would come on or the alarm, which was a sort of a rude growl. Anyway, eventually we parted ways during one of my many trips across the country. Years later I was stunned to be walking through an office at work and found one very much like it in use as an office radio! When that building was shut down I begged and whinged till the manager gave it to me. I still have it and hope to maybe have someone restore it someday. Even if I don’t, I can still look at it and sigh.
Next came the days of the boom box. Oh, I was listening to a lot of music those days, most on cassette, and mostly via headphones, so for general use a GE cassette player/radio worked for me. I found one of these at a Service Merchandise, and it served me for a couple of years. Now some such machines that pass through my hands I have no idea where they ended up, but this one…oh, I know exactly where it met its demise, and that was at the base of the Turn 6 grandstands at Riverside International Raceway circa 1984. I was there for a Can-Am/Trans-Am doubleheader, but the Cubs had managed to make it to the playoffs that year, so I wanted to follow the game too…which turned out to be the final game of their season and the last roundup for that GE mini boom box. It went “boom” on the tarmac beneath those grandstands when I pitched it off after the final out. Fortunately it didn’t hit anyone.
A series of nondescript Walkman-type machines followed next. Anything would work as long as it had a radio too, and a cassette player. I went through a lot of AA batteries. I finally got another boom box when I moved into my own apartment, but that didn’t last long, and neither did the boombox. Or any of the others that followed me into more-or-less adulthood.
One exception was–is–a very good radio that I found, again, at a Service Merchandise, a Sony “Dream Machine”. It wasn’t fancy, but it did have very good reception. And a snooze bar! The first I’d ever seen. It served me well for many years when I had no television, and it was my source for news and entertainment. I believe I actually still have that somewhere too, though whether or not it works I have no idea. I gave it to Mike to use when he moved to Tennessee, and it eventually got back to me, at which point it was used in my son’s room. A very long-lived machine to be sure, it finally had a glass of milk spilled into it. Even then it still worked, but it smelled funny.
Fast forward then to the more recent past. Everyday clock radios weren’t enough; I wanted a good radio. I found lots of recommendations, the most convincing of which came from a fellow named Jay Allen, and if you’re looking for the inside scoop on electronics, particularly radios, that you must visit his web site, which is radiojayallen.com. Apart from being totally geek-a-licious, it’s hugely entertaining and might as well be a buyers guide for the best receivers available. Following his guidelines, I chose a particular receiver and put it on my Christmas list…
…and it’s been my go-to radio ever since. It has everything I thought I needed at the time: digital tuning, pre-sets, stereo, and even an auxiliary port so I could plug in an mp3 player and listen without headphones. Later I added a Kindle Fire to that port so I could listen to internet radio. Very much an all-purpose tool, it resides on the bookshelf next to the bed. We spend a lot of time together, listening to Nashville Sounds games (and, during the hockey season, the Preds) and tuning to distant AM stations, because this thing really sucks in the AM wattage. Cincinnati, St. Louis, even my beloved WBBM in Chicago…all are within reach of Breezy Knoll with this remarkably small radio. I have even done some “DXing”…a pasttime in which one scans the AM dial looking for individual stations from absurd distances. And I pick up a lot of them too, but this is where this radio falls a little short…it is digital, and does not having fine tuning. In other words, I tune it to 780 AM, and that’s where it stays. I can’t go to, say, 781 or 779 in case the signal drifts, as they do tend to do when you’re looking for a specific station.
For that, I have been using a real veteran, a Panasonic RF-559. Pretty sure I found it in the basement where it either served as a shop or basement radio for Daddy. It is in amazingly good shape for a set that dates back to…possibly as far as 1979, as near as I can tell. It may have been produced later, but it started production in ’79. That gives me pause…it first saw the light of day the year I graduated from High School. The year I entered the Marine Corps. Almost forty years ago, for heaven’s sake. Well, I can tell you, it gets around a lot better than I do. Sitting on my living room table it effortlessly gets all our local FM stations at least as well as my PR-D5, even with the aerial down. And on AM…well, it’s perhaps not quite as sensitive, but it does very well, thank you, and with its analog tuning it can separate stations very well. I haven’t done any serious DXing with it, but when I am done with our current show I will probably starting logging what I find.
But in a few weeks I will have a true DXing powerhouse on the Knoll, a C Crane CCRadio 2e. This is supposed to be the bestm, most potent AM radio made, with excellent FM sound and the added bonus of weather alerts and access to Ham radio bands as well. A real Emergency radio, the likes of which we’ve really needed. Jay Allen recommended it–yes, the same Radio Jay Allen you read about above–as opposed to a shortwave model I had been coveting. His suggestion was for my purposes the 2e would be more pleasing. We shall see. I am looking forward to trying it out and seeing what I can hear. Using headphones; I think Shell gets annoyed when I retire to the bedroom to listen to radio, leaving her alone in the front room. This way, we both get what we want…I get to listen to the radio and she can, oh, I don’t know, keep an eye on me. But that’s okay. I like to keep my eye on her too. That’s why I married her. I love her!
I don’t know that I will ever be the obsessive radio nerd of the Jay Allen class. And there’s lots more like him…a quick scan of the web will show you. Yes, I own enough radios for pretty much every room in the house. This isn’t even counting the new alarm clock radio I had to snag recently because our old Emerson had kicked the solid state bucket. It’s a Sony ICF-C1 and it’s really quite cool…a little four inch cube that has staggeringly good sound and reception putting the lie to its small size and cost.
But…there are folks out there…perhaps you might know a few…who may well have every radio they ever owned…plus lots more they acquired just because they filled a certain need at a certain time…or perhaps they were acquired just because. I get it. I have done lots of “window shopping” on eBay looking at radios I don’t really need, thinking, yeah, that would be cool, I’d like to have that…but it’s Christmas and I don’t need to be spending money on myself…but maybe after…
So. Shortwave can wait. There is plenty of room to roam on the airwaves I can receive right now. Still…25 days from now…