Raised On Radio by
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(226 Stories)

Prompted By Remembering Radios

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It all began in the fall of 1962. I had just turned eleven in August. When I started seventh grade, I got my first clock-radio – maybe it was even a birthday present. It looked sort of like the featured image, although not exactly. It was beige rather than yellow, and the speaker grill on the front was covered with a tweedy material. (I was sure I would be able to find a picture of it online, but no such luck.) It had an analog clock, of course, since there wasn’t any other kind, it played only AM stations, and it had a snooz-alarm button, which I hit at least once every morning.

Clock-radio, transistor, car radio, boom box, record player-radio combo. All great for listening to my beloved rock 'n' roll.

There were only three stations that I listened to: WMCA at 57 on the dial, WABC at 77, and WINS 1010. I was adept at twirling the knob to get from one station to the next quickly, because every time a commercial came on, I moved to another station. The radio in the featured image looks like it’s tuned to WABC.

That fall I started listening to rock ‘n’ roll music all the time – waking up to it on my clock-radio, in the car on the half-hour drive to and from school, while doing homework, before falling asleep at night – and I learned all the lyrics to all the songs I heard, most of which I can still remember now. My favorite deejay was Murray the K and his Swingin’ Soiree on WINS 1010. I also liked Cousin Brucie on WABC, and B. Mitchell Reed on WMCA. Amazingly, more than 50 years later, Cousin Brucie can still be heard on Sirius Radio playing the hits from the ’60s. He is 85 years old!

At some point I also got a very small transistor radio that looked like this. I don’t have any specific memories of when I listened to it. When we went to clear out my mother’s New Jersey house in 2016 before selling it (because she was living full-time in Florida by then), I discovered the radio, which had a Dymo label with my name on it, so obviously it was mine. We brought it back to California for sentimental reasons, but since we could never get it to work, my husband eventually got rid of it. I was so disappointed not to have it to photograph for this story. Just one more reason why we pack-rats never like to throw anything away!

For my dorm room at college, my parents bought me a record player/radio combination that looked sort of like this. The speakers folded in across the front after you flipped the turntable up, making it a pretty compact box when not in use. It was stereo, which was exciting, and you could take the speakers off the cabinet and put them on opposite sides of the room. Of course all my records were Mono at that point, because I had never had a stereo before, but I think by that time the radio stations were playing records that were in stereo. The other innovative thing about it was that the radio had FM as well as AM. I still had my clock-radio to wake up to, but now I could listen to FM stations for music that was more sophisticated than top 40.

I can’t remember if I packed that stereo into my car when I moved to California, or whether I left it behind along with most of my furniture. I do know that at some point either during or immediately after law school, I bought separate components, like all the serious music aficionados had – different brands of turntable, tuner/receiver, and speakers. I think the speakers were KLH, but I have no memory of what the other components were. As a result, I could get great separation on the music I listened to, whether on the radio or on my continually growing collection of records.

Through the years I have always listened to the radio when I was in the car, generally at pretty high volume, at least if I was alone. My Valiant just had an AM radio (pretty standard, I imagine, on a 1966 car), but it did have push buttons, so that was a big advantage over the clock-radio because it was so easy to jump from station to station. I did this constantly, either as soon as a song ended, or if a song that I didn’t like came on. When I bought my Alfa Romeo in 1977 off the lot at the dealership, it didn’t have a radio already in it, and I didn’t want to pay what they charged to install a factory radio. But with the $500 I got from selling the Valiant, I was able to put in a dynamite sound system, with a radio and a cassette player, and great speakers. That was fun, driving around with the top down and the radio blasting!

Fast forward to my current car, a Nissan Leaf, which has a radio and CD player, but we have actually never used the CD player. We always play the radio, because we sprang for a subscription to SiriusXM. They cleverly gave us a free subscription for six months or a year when we first bought the car. We didn’t think we would subscribe, but by the end of the trial period we were hooked! My favorite stations are ’60s on 6, ’70s on 7, Classic Vinyl, and The Bridge (“mellow classic rock”). There are eighteen presets (wow!), so some are still set to the stations that play Molly’s music, and I sometimes listen to those too. There are a few set to NPR and classical stations, because that’s what Ed likes, but I generally eschew those. I can’t stand to listen to talking on the radio, I only want music, preferably music I can sing along with.

In the house we have an enormous boom box in the kitchen, which I’m pretty sure we picked up at a garage sale many years ago. It is a combination radio, CD player, and cassette player, and is almost two feet in width. It has a handle, but it’s way too heavy to carry around, at least for me. So it just sits in the window box as a permanent fixture. We sometimes listen to NPR, especially the Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz, but mostly I still like to find the rock and roll stations to play when I’m cooking. It has some preset buttons, but I don’t know how to set them, and since they are mostly set on stations that nobody in the family likes, I suspect they are still there from the previous owner!

Over the course of fifty years, clock-radios, transistors, car radios, boom boxes, and record player-radio combos have all been great for listening to the rock and roll that I love. I don’t know what I would do without radios!

 


For an earlier story about the music I listened to on the various radios I have described, see Rock and Roll Never Forgets on the “What We Listened To” prompt (2016). For other music I sang in addition to rock and roll, see Sing, Sing A Song on the “Songs We Sang” prompt (2018).

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Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    You have so well presented the evolution both of radios and our generation’s listening over the years Suzy. And great illustrations that really bring the memories back. Thank you!

    Most particularly, when I went off to college, I realized the common bond among those of us from the Tri-State Area (NY, NJ and CT): we had all listened to the same NY radio stations in high school — particularly for rock and roll and 24/7 news. And, yes, I am amazed that Cousin Brucie is still around (and, at least to me, sounds just the same).

    Any chance you can find your 1977 Alfa with the great sound system? That would be a killer to drive around in today.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I agree with you about the Tri-State Area kids all listening to the same rock and roll stations, but 24/7 news? Not for me! WINS 1010 switched to an all-news format in 1965, and I never listened to that station again. Very disappointing!

      You’re right, it would be fun to find my old Alfa, although it didn’t get great gas mileage, and these days I don’t drive a gas-powered car at all. If Alfa Romeo made an electric car, I would definitely be interested.

      • John Shutkin says:

        You’re absolutely right! I just checked and WINS (and WCBS) did not switch to all-news formats until after we were in high school.

        I will next research electric Alfas for you.

        • Suzy says:

          Of course I’m right! I wouldn’t have picked 1965 out of thin air, I looked it up. WINS in 1965 was the first. WCBS didn’t switch until 1970, but that was not a station I listened to anyway.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I think you managed to find the clock radio that I had in my bedroom when I was a teenager (though, as you say, beige, not yellow). It struck a familiar nerve the second I looked at your story and I had an a-ha moment! You certainly are a devoted listener to music (this shouldn’t surprise me at all, given your music-titles-for-stories), and you’ve given us a broad spectrum of listening experiences over the years. I admire your ability to do work (even homework) and listen. I could never do that (and still can’t…Dan would love to have music on all day, but I’d never get anything done because I’d be singing along instead of reading or writing; just the way my brain works).

    Dan loves to listen to SiriusXM in his car, all the same stations as you. I find it too distracting, somehow. I stick to news programming, unless I’m using my GPS. Then I turn off the radio altogether, so I can concentrate on the road.

    Thanks for your comprehensive tour through the years.

    • Suzy says:

      So your teenage clock-radio looked more like my picture than your picture? I was envious because I thought you had found a picture of yours. Glad I gave you that aha moment! In truth I didn’t always have my radio on when I was doing homework, only for assignments that didn’t require much thinking. Otherwise, as you say, it would have been too distracting. But I HAVE to have music on when I am driving, preferably songs that I can sing along with. To me that’s the best part about being in the car!

  3. Marian says:

    Amazing about Cousin Brucie, Suzy. Can’t believe he’s broadcasting, let alone alive, how fun. Our radio listening ran in parallel for a while, no surprise!

    • Suzy says:

      Mare, I just read that Cousin Brucie left Sirius Radio last year, but not to retire – he has a new program on WABC called Cousin Brucie’s Saturday Night Rock & Roll Party. So maybe he’s cutting back to one night a week now that he’s 85.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    It’s interesting how many writers associated radio with cars. Like you, I had transistors and clock radios, but that most special thing we share, Suzy, is that boom box. Remember John Cusack holding up that silver one in Say Anything?

    • Suzy says:

      I do remember that boom box, Laurie. It’s actually the only thing about the movie that I remember. I just read the plot synopsis, and it didn’t sound familiar at all. 🙂

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I also had a portable stereo system with the detachable speakers–my high school graduation present I believe. And it sounds as if there are a least a couple of us who could have a great pajama party singing all the old songs, still with all the lyrics.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, we could have a fabulous pajama party! Next year when we are in Cambridge for our reunion we can get together with Betsy who lives in Newton. Not sure if there is anyone else nearby.

  6. Suzy, as always I’m amazed at your recall – in this case of dates, chronology, stations, and songs.
    But of course I remember listening to Cousin Brucie, in fact I think he’s still alive! And I love SiriusXM for listening in the car!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes of course Cousin Brucie is still alive! In my story (3rd paragraph) I say “Amazingly, more than 50 years later, Cousin Brucie can still be heard on Sirius Radio playing the hits from the ’60s. He is 85 years old!” Then in my reply to Marian’s comment I mention that he has a new show on WABC. Guess you weren’t reading very carefully! 🙂

  7. Ah, yes, the push button radio, I remember it well…my index finger is having a visceral déja vu!

    B. Mitchell Reed is a familiar name…he was also a deejay at KFWB, and I remember his voice.

    As you did with your Alfa,, I had a nifty and very expensive sound system installed in my Porsche…felt like I was on top of the world cruising with the top down…specifically remember listening to Steely Dan and Kraftwerk(!).

    Those were the days, my friend…

    • Suzy says:

      I love the idea of a visceral déja vu! And what a surprise to discover that B. Mitchell Reed was bicoastal! (Do you think he would have been as memorable if he had just been Mitchell Reed? Seems like that B. was crucial.)

      I’ve never heard of Kraftwerk, but cruising in my Alfa I listened to whoever came on the radio, or else played the cassette tapes I had made myself, recording a potpourri of songs from my favorite LPs. I still have those cassettes.

  8. Oh, my, you would have seemed so sophisticated to me, a poor Boston boy! WMCA, WABC at 77, and “ten-ten WINS New York!” Murray the K and his swingin’ soirée! I love how definitive you are in your music. If you don’t like a tune, punch it out and move on!

    Your fold-down turntable stereo brought back recollections, too, although I was already in college at that point. That stereo played a lot of Dylan in my sophomore-year cave, before I moved in with my hipper folk-music friends.

    I imagine you were quite a sight and sound attraction, roaring along in your Alfa, blaring all that good music!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, a careful reading would show you that I too was already in college when I had the fold-down turntable stereo. So we had that in common.

      I liked to think I was a sophisticated teen, but probably not any more so than a “poor Boston boy.” Later, living in Davis, I did enjoy roaring along in my Alfa. I had a visor that said Suzy Creamcheese on it, to keep my hair out of my eyes when I was driving.

  9. Suzy I marvel at your recall. One of the great things about this site generally and your stories specifically is the way they generate “reaction memories” – subsequently recalled tidbits prompted by passing references. In this case KLH. I remember having a KLH compact unit senior year in college: turntable and included FM plus separate speakers. I kept that for many years until I “graduated” to component systems. And while I grew up too far out of the NY metro area to listen to your DJ faves, I knew them all by reputation.

  10. Jeff Gerken says:

    Nice tracing of the history of electronic entertainment that most of us on this site shared, from the early days, when FM was some mysterious group of channels that we couldn’t access, and all of our music was on AM stations, to today, when we can enjoy FM radio, a wide variety of Sirius/XM channels, or even, in my case an iPod loaded with a thousand songs that I can either select or “shuffle” as the mood strikes me.

    You and I would have serious trouble on a cross-country trip, however, as I would want to listen to either NPR on the radio or MSNBC on XM, only going onto the iPod when MSNBC was starting to repeat the stories I had been listening to all day and the NPR stations are doing their fundraisers..

    As a certified nerd, I also have a couple of radios that can pick up shortwave stations around the world, and even built a shortwave receiver from a kit once, but I’ve never really gotten that far into it. I do, however, like the ability to listen to stations from far away places over the internet.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Jeff. You’re right, we could never take a road trip together, good thing we didn’t have one planned! I’m interested in the fact that you say “NPR on the radio or MSNBC on XM” – does that mean you think XM is NOT the radio?

      • Jeff Gerken says:

        I listen to NPR via radio waves in the FM frequencies. XM comes in via satellite communications, undoubtedly also some band, but not the traditional FM band. I could also use XM to listen to NPR, but it’s easier just to pick it up on FM in most places where I drive. And my clock radio doesn’t do XM.

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