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Airwaves: March 24, 2006

Getting Radio

I got the radio bug at a fairly early age. It all started when my Auntie Ina gave me a Realtone 10-transistor radio -- AM of course -- when I was about 8 years old.

Even thought I had the bug, I didn't have the smarts. I used to ask people if I was tuned to KHJ; they'd look at the dial and say "yes" ... it took me a while to understand that dial position was critical ... and that 1020 KGBS was most certainly not 93 KHJ. Not that I cared much at that age; I just loved listening to the radio.

More radios followed. Another small transistor model that I eventually destroyed by trying to make the reception better; a tube model Motorola (can't recall where it came from, but probably from my oldest brother Raymond's Navy buddy); another tube radio from my Mom's mother, Noni; and a tube model I still have that was my Dad's gift to my Mom when they were dating, a Delco.

I didn't discover FM until I found a weird stereo in my brother Victor's closet. A Harman Kardon Citation III FM tuner was part of the system, and since I didn't know how to connect the rest of the pieces, I hooked up the tuner to a guitar amplifier. KKDJ was the station I liked the most, and I listened to it fairly often.

Eventually, Victor gave me an AM-FM portable. He used it to listen to KLOS and KMET; I used it for KHJ, KEZY, KCBQ and KGB. For whatever reason, I stuck with AM far longer than most people, and I'd still listen to AM top-40 today, if such a station existed.

On a chalkboard in the garage, I'd write the top ten songs of the week as determined by KCBQ, then the top stations as determined by, well, me and Victor.

Victor gave me his Sears AM/FM/8-Track stereo when we finally figured out how to really connect and use the Harman Kardon system. That system, by the way, had so many tubes you could use it to heat the house.

My first real modern stereo receiver was one I bought when Wallach's Music City was closing: a Marantz 2215B. My favorite stations at the time were KEZY-FM, KNX-FM, KRTH, KFMB-FM, and the great AMs: KHJ, KEZY and Ten-Q.

I still own that Marantz, the Harman Kardon, a Fisher I got from my sister-in-law's father, the Delco, a few portables, more clock-radios than I need, a German tube set from my father-in-law Roger, and a few others. For whatever reason, I just can't seem to get rid of the good ones. Even though I probably should.

The various radios represent not only a variety of designs -- tubes vs. transistors, long distance reception vs. fidelity, or a combination of all -- they also represent a certain state-of-the-art from a time when radio programming was itself state of the art. When people actually cared what station they tuned in. When people could name all the "jocks" on a particular station. When one station could command 40% of the teenage audience ... an audience that was long ago abandoned by radio and in turn long ago abandoned radio for other entertainment sources. When AM programmers weren't afraid of FM.

Which is why, perhaps, I cannot give them up. They represent an era of radio that is long gone, probably forever.

No wonder my wife Jean thinks I'm crazy.


Copyright © 2006 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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