June 13, 2007

The Sound of Radio

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:00 am by dgcombs

As long as I can remember there was a radio playing in my house. Even when we were little, every morning, mom and dad would be listening to the radio at breakfast. Then mom would listen to the radio shows through the day.

One time we got up early, very early to move. I guess the radio had already been packed away on the truck because an eerie silence filled the house as we shuffled to the kitchen in our pajamas. My dear mom made our favorite Cream o’ Wheat for breakfast. But I guess the sugar was packed away too because we had to choke it down without any sweetening! Some news report might have distracted us from the taste.

edit: Mom reports that we had sugar, it was just brown sugar instead of white sugar. It probably didn’t taste as sweet. No kidding!

We had a pretty good radio in some of the places we lived. My dad would tune in some great old songs! As a child I learned all the words to Sugar in the Morning. It was one of our favorites. Maybe that’s why I can’t look a bowl of corn flakes in the eye without at least two spoonfuls of sugar on it. The other one we used to sing all the time had something to do with a Purple People Eater. Looking back on it, I wonder why I thought that was such a fun song. YUCK! No sugar would save that!

When we moved into Dodge City, my dad took a serious liking to electronics. He spent all Sunday building a radio from a Heath kit. People don’t build their own radios any more. They rarely build their own anything any more. But my dad took this bag of parts and a little box with a dial on it and built a radio. He finished it late at night. I remember because I needed to go to school the next day. Super regenerative radios have way of amplifying the sound by sending it through a feedback loop. You set too little feedback and it doesn’t make any noise. You set too much feedback and it makes a horrible, shrill squeaking noise. I woke up to that horrible, shrill squeaking noise as my dad was trying to figure out how much was just enough. My mom came into the room to comfort me. “”Daddy’s just playing with his radio,”” she said. I’m not sure what my response was but I do remember checking out the dials on the new radio the next morning after breakfast. Yep… cream o’ wheat with sugar this time.

After I got a little older, closer to my teens, my dad built me my very own radio. It was a nifty little device in a plastic box with a single earphone. It required no batteries. All it needed was a good, long antenna. Fortunately, living out in the country on a farm like we did, allowed me to put up the longest wire antenna I’ve ever seen. I picked up the radio and put the earphone in my ear and sure enough! It was powerful enough to get the radio station all the way from Oklahoma City! The only station even near Dodge City to play that rock and roll. I could listen to that music all day and all night. One night, as I was listening to the beat through that single tinny headphone, my dad poked his head into my bedroom. He yelled, “”turn off that radio!”” I looked up, confused. “”But, but, it has no off switch!”” I stammered out. He laughed and headed off to bed. As I drifted into sweet dreams, I knew it was OK to enjoy his gift as late as I could.

Because of all the radios we’d had, and because we lived in the country near Fort Dodge, Kansas so far from everyone else, I got interested in Amateur Radio. My dad even bought a powerful (at the time) Hammarlund HQ-160 Radio to let me practice the arts of morse code and late night conversations with perfect strangers from half-way across the country. Having heard that radio waves performed much better when the sun was down, I set my alarm for 3am and crept to the Ham gear to find out for myself. Sure enough, all those local guys from Nebraska and Oklahoma had gone to bed. I had the Ham Bands all to myself! Me and the guys in exotic California and, gasp! even Hawaii! Say, isn’t that where they grow all that sugar cane?

These days, my grandchildren and I have iPods and MP3 Players from SanDisk and Creative Labs. Even Microsoft is putting music on a Zune. More then just music is the PodCast. If I had time before dashing out the door, a television would be my morning companion. Our main FM radio has been on the fritz [broken, not working] since February but no one has made a serious move to replace it. The radio just isn’t the companion it used to be. We now turn to MP3 downloads, CD’s and on those rare drives in the morning and evening when traffic is just abysmal, to the radio. The other day, as I was driving home, I hear about three guys who were billing themselves as the last of the breed. And I thought… that’s just what my dad and mom need. Some good old country tunes permeating the house. And so… Happy birthday, Mom. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I hope you enjoyed your special days.

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