Well, as they say, “welcome to my world.” The picture above offers a partial glimpse of the room where you will most likely find me practically any time, day or night. Here is where I write my blog, my books and anything else in need of a word or two. I have lots of nostalgia and family photos keeping me company, along with my collection of old radios that sits on a shelf that rings the room close to the ceiling on two of the walls. These are the subject of today’s posting.
I started collecting old radios in the late 1990s. I narrowed my focus to what I call “kitchen” radios. These were the typical tabletop radios that my family and most of my neighbors had on our kitchen tables back in the 1940s-1960s. They were the old-fashioned tube radios which took time to warm up. They had a marvelous warm “tubey” odor and were usually made out of a plastic-like material called Bakelite.
Back then, the radios were strictly AM. FM radio had no presence yet. Most households had a tabletop radio in the master bedroom too. The ones in the living rooms were usually much larger and in the evening people gathered around them much like they do the television today. All kinds of long-form programs were on the radio back then and it was the key source for news and entertainment for several decades.
The bulk of my radio collection comes from the late 1940s and 50s, representing the younger years of my childhood. My oldest radio was made in 1939 (pictured right), the year my parents were married. It’s the only one I have with a wood case. It was made by Philco and it still works today!
One of the more collectible radios I have is a Hopalong Cassidy radio. Its case is made of metal. Hopalong Cassidy, or Hoppy as he was called if you knew him well, was a big cowboy star made famous by actor William Boyd. I don’t remember him on the radio, but I used to see him in the movies when we went to the Saturday kids’ matinees which was just about every week back then. There were always short serial films shown beside the main movie. If you missed a week you were left hanging as to whether or not the hero saved the girl tied to the tracks before the train came and smushed her to smithereens. I also watch Hoppy when he had his own television series in the ‘50s. He was always dressed totally in black and rode an all-white horse named “Topper.” Funny how I remember all theses details but I can’t remember a damn thing from this morning.
Another one of my radio memories was Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers comedy team. He hosted a quiz show on Thursday nights back in the ‘50s. It was called “You Bet Your Life!” What was fun for me was that it used to be on the radio a half-hour before the same show ran on TV. I would listen on the radio. Then, I’d nonchalantly plop myself on the floor in the living room while my mom and dad watched the show on TV. I proceeded to impress them to no end because I miraculously knew the answers to all the questions. They never let on that they knew why I was suddenly such a wealth of knowledge; they just went along with my scam and fed my self-esteem
I was always fascinated by radio as a child, so it was no surprise that I spent my life’s career in the business. What I like most about my collection is that the radios represent more than mere electronic boxes of tubes and wires. I value what was on these radios, not what was in them. It was through these radios that people followed the events of World War II. Edward R. Murrow grew famous as a war correspondent with his “This is London” reports that brought the horror of the bombing of England into every American household.
Radio was the main source of information for numerous presidential elections and all the other important news events that took place before the advent of television. Through radio, play-by-play description of a baseball game grew to the level of an art form. The Saturday night big band swing broadcasts transformed living rooms to dance halls. Radio did all these things and so much more that affected the lives of its audience, and it did it with just one element…sound! That’s what is so amazing about radio–if gives you the sound only and from that point forward your mind provides the pictures
So I think of my radios as a collection of human experiences, from news to soap operas, to game shows to all kinds of sporting events, entertainment and beyond. It is fun to imagine all the happiness—and, yes, some sadness—they brought into people’s lives. Like my radios, just plug me in and turn me on, and I will always be capable of chattering and having something to say. But I suppose one day, when my tubes burn out and all my wires fray beyond repair, I shall silently join my radios up there on the shelf. Not such a bad place to be, if you ask me.