Both kids asked me if I ever got into trouble when I was a little kid for sneaking stuff into my room past bedtime. Of course I did, I replied with a pointed Marge Simpson mom-look, but only once and then I got smarter than to get caught again, like some children I know. They couldn't imagine exactly what I would have snuck.
"A tiny TV?" queried Miss Ten.
"A record player?" queried Mr14.
"Ha ha, YEAH, one of those old ones with the big horn that you wind up! Ah ha ha ha ha!" Miss Ten chortled.
"NO," I no-ed, "It was my radio!"
I've often told my kids how important the radio was to me growing up, but I don't think there's any way they can really understand. For them, the radio is a pleasant accompaniment to our daily school drives, but no more than that. They have so many options for music and media consumption. They don't have any feelings for the radio. For me, it was really my only way to get the music I craved -- I had almost no money of my own to spend on buying records (the towns I lived in were too small to even have record stores anyway), and the music programs on TV were on just once a week. The radio was nothing less than magic to me -- turn it on and it plays you music any time of day or night. And -- important to this conversation -- my little red transistor radio came with an earphone, making it entirely possible to hide it multiple places in my bed so I could keep listening after my mom tucked me in for the night. (I had to explain to my kids what an earphone was: a single earbud. They were amused and confused by the concept of "monophonic sound.")
The AM dial opened up at dusk and WOKY, my favorite Milwaukee radio station in the '60s, would usually get obliterated by high-watt WLS out of Chicago. I would listen so hard through the crackling static as stations from all over the Midwest (and sometimes the South or East) floated in and out, parts of songs replaced by other parts of songs, the super-fuel DJ patter and the bumper jingles remarkably the same. There were many, many nights that I just couldn't make myself turn the radio off, even when I could feel myself slipping into sleep...my favorite song might be coming up next! The big problem with this, other than being sleepy the next day, was that I'd run out of batteries pretty fast. Dead radio!! NOOOOOOO!
"Daddy, my radio needs batteries again, please," I would sweetly ask my father, after testing the 9-volt with my tongue.
"What?? Again? You aren't leaving it on all the time, are you? You have to click the dial to OFF!" he would grump at me.
"No, no. I know. I am turning it all the way off! I know how!" I would lie.
My dad kept me in 9-volts, and I kept listening for many years in the dark of my room, music flowing to me through the air. I still keep late hours listening to music, wearing hundred-buck Klipsch earbuds instead the mono earphone with the super-long cord, and in fact just made a request to KEXP's "Sonic Reducer" show and they played it within ten minutes. Magic!
Tribute to WLS Sound of the '60s