Radio. Things that make me smile.

Saturday, May 23, 2009
This could probably be classified under Too Much Information, but I still get a buzz when I get to play with a new radio or radio format.

I think it all went back to that small AM Transistor I won in a contest and how that radio opened the world to me late at night when I was suppose to be sleeping. Salt Lake City came rolling in and I got my buzz on. Then there was Seattle and Iowa and Vancouver and sometimes Chicago and St. Louis. Listening to those far away places just really made me happy, in healthy ways.

Then I found an old Shortwave radio in my great grandparents old things and I set that up beside my bed. I will never forget that first night when HCJB came booming into my bedroom, all the way from Quito Ecuador. Then came the BBC and Radio Netherlands and that led me through the next few years of occasional pleasure in an otherwise bleak teenage existence.

When I started to drive dad's old 68 Pontiac Laurentian it only had an AM Radio in it and the late 70's were the time when FM was just starting up. Granted there were only three FM stations in Saskatoon at the time, and they were mostly crap, but still, more radio, more opportunities to hear the world. I had an 8-Track player in it at the time, and one day while down at Canadian Tire I saw an FM Radio Adapter you could insert into the Eight Track slot and have FM Radio in your car. My eyes got big and the cost wasn't that great so after a few weeks I got it and took it home. I unwrapped it carefully and plugged it into the old 8-track player and within a few moments that old simple pleasure of tuning a new station brought a grin to my acne covered face.

The years went by and I never had lots of cash to spend on radio's so I enjoyed the simple pleasures of tuning in distant stations. I'd work on simple inexpensive antennas which would dramatically increase the reception, and the occasional smile.

The Internet came along, and one of my first demands of the Internet was pulling in distant radio stations who would put their feeds up online. Though it wasn't the same buzz as a small radio in my hand pulling in distant stations, it was cool to have clear quality signals coming in over the internet wire, right into my house. I bought a small FM Transmitter, hooked it up to the computer, and retransmitted the stations throughout the house and yard and about a block into the neighbourhood so that I could turn on my handheld radio and listen to the stations a world away, right from the comfort of my back yard. And I would smile.

In the 1990's Satellite radio came along and though at the beginning was too expensive to consider, by June 2006 we were enjoying the variety of distant sounds bouncing off a chunk of metal somewhere up there in space. I remember the smile on my face when we could listen to NPR or the Seventies Channel. Old Time Classic Radio still plays throughout the house here in the field, and this morning I woke up to a thought provoking interview on NPR. Simple joys for a simple mind you might say, I know you're thinking it.


So where is this all going you are saying to yourself. Well I was thinking the other day about all this stuff and history and wondering why a simple pleasure such as radio still has the power to make me smile. I was thinking about it because I was driving down the highway heading to town, and in my hand I held my mobile phone, a small blackberry on which I had downloaded an application to play online radio stations. I was jumping between continents and genres, between local stations and international ones. I listened to the traffic in New York City, and the Cubs getting ready to play in Chicago. Worship music from St. Louis and the weather from Germany. I was grinning ear to ear again and though nobody gets it I'm k with that.

I think what was making me smile even more was the sound coming off of that small tinny phone speaker. It sounded exactly like my first small AM Transistor radio, pulling in the local stations. In terms of radio at least, it felt like we'd come full circle.

And I smiled again.


  1. I know what you mean. I remember my first little transistor radio and being able to get WLS from Chicago. It was so cool.

  2. I didn't have the extent of experience that you do Randall, but my truck stereo could pick up Green Bay, Wisconsin from 1180AM when I sat on the highest hill in Swift Current. This was so great to a Packer fan when the games weren't on TV.

  3. My dad used to listen to Radio Nederland every night after supper on his short wave radio (in Caronport--probably when we were in Holland, too, but that's not the same, is it?). I can still hear that crackle and buzz and distant voice waving, coming in strong and then getting a bit weaker, back and forth between signal strengths.

    Thanks for the memory.

  4. Randall, your comments and fascination about radio in your past, rang a bell with me. I did things like that too, but even farther back, maybe before you were born, there was the crystal set. Do you know anything about that? I had that in bed with me every night.

  5. We always listened to Max McGee & Jim Irwin while we watched the Packer games on TV. My dad much preferred their commentary to any of the people on TV. I would have never imagined that I would come across 1180AM on your blog (even if only in the comments)! The world gets smaller all the time.

  6. Hmmmm. Wireless.

    I too remember having a fascination with radio from a young age, probably fuelled by my father's job/hobby of being a sparks and fixing all kinds of things. When I was around 8 or 9 years old he acquired a battery operated valve radio that he gave to me. It came in a vast box covered in blue leatherette, most of which was taken by the battery (185V + 6.3V IIRC). This was placed at the head of my bed, with the pillow squished into the space between the radio and te wall. When I couldn't sleep I'd turn the radio on very softly and listen to those far-away voices. The dial was marked, as all radios were in those days, with places to inspire the imagination: Prague, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Budapest, Paris, Berlin, Lyons and lots more I can't remember.

    I think the battery was replaced twice. They were made by Ever Ready and were already obsolete (and enormously expensive). He must have obtained these through his trade connections.

    Later on I had a mains powered AM radio that was fixed on London's Capital Radio (radio 1 was just like today - mostly garbage, except for 'Fluff' Brown's show). Capital had a bunch of cool guys, including Kenny Everett and were much more selective about their playlist.

    When we moved to the valley nearly 20 years ago we found that reception was less than ideal. While I still listen to the radio in the car (radio 4 mostly, Jazz FM in London) it isn't a feature at home at all - 3 foot thick stone walls and difficult terrain have put a stop to that.

  7. "there were only three FM stations in Saskatoon at the time, and they were mostly crap"

    ..seems like not much has changed, though now I think they have maybe five FM stations

  8. Smaller and smaller is the world indeed.

    I love that the Internet has brought the world's radio stations to my kitchen. If I'm not enjoying BBC7, it's going to be Radio 4. When I'm listening in the morning (here) I'll think of you, Toni, listening on your way home from work.

    Pretty cool thought.


I'm moderating all the comments these days.

Copyright Randall Friesen. Powered by Blogger.