June 2nd is Radio Patent Day. While I’m not quite old enough to have been around for the beginnings, my life has had its fair share of memories that involve huddling around the radio in my home or in my car.
Granted in 1896 to Guglielmo Marconi, radio changed the way the world communicated. The radio brought great joy, and beauty, as well as tragedy, into the hearts and homes of millions. The radio conjures up a lot of images, of a family painted by Norman Rockwell gathered about the old wooden receiver to a bunch of punks with spikes in their noses head-banging to the beat from a boom box. The radio provides the soundtrack for so many pieces of our lives, and evokes so many memories.
So gather around these five top-rated radios (bang your head if you want to) and dive into some radio stories.
It was in 1970 and 1971, and I was listening to the pop music station in Pittsburgh, WKQV. And every week, they published a Top Hits list, distributed less than a quarter of a mile away from my house in the record section at G.C. Murphy’s. And every week, I was there the day that list came out, to see what was number one, and more importantly, to see if I agreed with it. They were printed on different color paper every week, and my room at home looked like a multi-colored ticker tape parade. It was the last time I ever really listened to pop radio.
It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m about 14 years old. We’re listening to WYDD, and the disc jockey is promising to roll a bowling ball down the office stairs at midnight. Who doesn’t want to be involved in that. So we’re hanging out, listening to the radio and waiting, waiting for the midnight bell to toll, so we can hear the awesome sound of a bowling ball going down the stairs. I can still hear it to this day. The DJ lay a mic down next to the ball, and started it down the stairs. THUD, THud, thud, thu, t until you could barely hear it. It took about 3 seconds. Not radio’s finest moment.
I got a top-rated Panasonic portable radio when I was 15 years old. It was a 12 band radio, but I didn’t get it for the coverage. I got it because it had an 8″ speaker in a 10″ box. It was loud, and that was good. It took 6 D batteries to make it run, and I swear it weighed a metric ton. I carried it every where- I think I still have the scars on my shoulder to prove it. But we always had traveling music, in the park, on our bikes, wherever we went. Listening to the radio, listening to songs about listening to the radio, it was all good.
I moved to Lewisburg PA to go to college, and got a rude awakening. There were two radio stations, and while one was dreadful, the other was awful. We got the farm report four times a day. And I lost contact with the radio. Which turned out to be OK, because I went into a musical expansion that came with my college education, and felt for a long time that I didn’t need the radio. It wasn’t what I was listening to, and it didn’t seem to have any appeal. This lasted through my move to New Hampshire, where I have to admit, the radio was better than Lewisburg. It was merely bad. So the radio fell out of favor and out of mind.
And then, I moved to Missoula, MT, and discovered college radio. I’d never heard college radio before in any of the places I’d lived. KBGA comes out of the University of Montana, and it’s where I learned about death metal, electronica, the bass drop, and a myriad of other music that I don’t really like, but am glad that I am aware of. But they’ve got a disc jockey every Saturday morning, whose voice and attitude reminds me of the DJ with the bowling ball, and who’s knowledge of soul music is wide and deep. And DJ’s who play the White Stripes, Black Keys and many other bands I wouldn’t have been exposed to if it wasn’t for college radio. So in the car, I follow these words of advice, “Don’t touch that dial,” set my radio to stun, and listen to whatever KBGA puts out. And like a lot of things in life, sometimes it’s good, sometime’s it’s awful, but it’s always interesting. And I’m back listening to the radio again.
And just a little bit of sales pitch here, notice the top-rated Sangean DDR-63 has Wi-fi internet radio and an iPod dock. So while I’m keeping up with the times by listening to the radio, the radio is keeping up with the times with internet connectivity and iPod docking capabilities. So it just goes to show that old dogs can be taught new tricks. For me, it just takes a little while longer.