March 14, 2003

Radio Days

Psychic numbness. That's my explanation. A mild form of detached depression that makes everything seem flat, blurry, shades of gray. I drive along to town and my mind, usually bouncing from idea to memory to flash of insight or whimsy, is thinking: nothing. The signs of spring do nothing to arouse any joy. The fact that it is warm enough to turn on the AC in the truck for the first time registers no pleasure that winter is finally over. It is as if the experience of joy, enthusiasm, anticipation, contemplation-- requires a neurohumor that in me has been spent, used up over the past months, exhausted by perpetual assault of the collective psychosis of a world too much with me. I am preparing myself for what lies ahead by pulling in my antennae, raising the shields, calling up steel and novacaine, preparing the emotional tourniquettes, making ready. It is unfamiliar, sad terraine. My hands drive while my mind spins without motion, out of gear.

At last, weary of the internal silence, I turned on the radio-- making sure I punched the third AM button that would carry me directly into nostalgia. Playing: The Fleetwoods --Mr. Blue. Wha-oo-wha-oo. I stuck my head up cautiously from my psychological foxhole, removed my protective helmet and looked off into the haze of years.

I was 11 years old that spring of 1959, and for my birthday I got my first portable transister radio. It was powder-blue and the size of a loaf of bread-- amazingly tiny by the standards of the day -- but heavy enough to require a thick handle on top. This was the perfect gift at the perfect time in my young life. Radio waves had become magical to me, amazed me, stirred my imagination and spoke of future cities buzzing with flying cars and robots and elevated highways winding between mysterious angular buildings.

For a year or more before the new blue portable came along, my tiny red Crystal Rocket Radio, with a gentle pull on the nosecone antenna, could convert the mysterious penetrating frequencies into the play-by-play from a baseball game as far away as Chicago or steely jazz straight from New Orleans. It was an utter marvel to me that invisible waves of energy were beaming through my roof, into me, through me; and with the 'decoder ring' built into a receiver, those imperceptible mystery-waves were transformed by some strange alchemy into this amazing cacophony of music and words and ideas.

Through radio, the world began to take form, full of sound and meaning, pierced with melodies and words I had never heard or thought. The squealing, fading signal coming through the tiny earpiece on a twisted wire told of a future I would be a part of. I called my radio Mr. Blue. This plastic piece of 'information techology' marked the beginning of a hunger to belong to a world beyond my backyard fence.

I'll not put too fine an edge of this. I haven't the energy to flesh it out adequately this morning. Suffice it to say that 10 years after Mr. Blue, I bought a shortwave radio. Still mesmerized by hearing the Babel noise of a shrinking world, I would tweak the digital dials for hours to bring in squealing fading signals from beyond my continent. But I could only listen.

Now, 40 years after Mr. Blue, I am connected to the planet in a way I never would have dreamed in my fantasies of future worlds. Instantaneous connections, immediate 'news', a million squealing Babel-voices at my fingertips, amd mine is one of them.... the information of a thousand civilizations at the touch of a few buttons.

There will be days in the coming weeks when you will hear nothing from me. I will have retreated into my bunker, unable or unwilling to transmit the static that passes for contemplation, fit only for my own company, and unwilling to listen to the world's noise. I still haven't decided, but when I go underground, I'll probably take my oldies radio with me.

Posted by fred1st at March 14, 2003 08:33 AM | TrackBack

Fred, I bet you remember that silly pop song, "Transistor Sister." That's what came into my head, reading your swell memories of the wonder of radio waves. I had several transistor radios, growing up. The first one had a red and white outer shell. Coolsville, man.

Posted by: peggy at March 14, 2003 08:55 AM

Mine was "Mr Sandman". You're bringin' back some good old memories today my dear, and putting fresh smiles on weary faces. I think, today, dancing will take precedence over dusting. Thanks Fred. Happy Weekend Mojo your way!

Posted by: Anne at March 14, 2003 11:07 AM

I built a transister radio from a kit when I was a kid. Granted, cable TV was around by then, so the mystery of radio had sort of faded, but the ability to create a working radio from parts was magical.

I think Radio Shack still has kits like that. I bet my son would enjoy one of those kits. And if he doesn't, well dad could alsways finish it for him :)

Posted by: Chris at March 14, 2003 11:48 AM

As young as I am, those things bring to me the equal wonder at the older times and the things in them that I am too far removed to be able to remember. They are a far away world that I can only imagine what it would be like, how things were done, and what things were. I look at some old relic and wonder how it was used, how it worked, if it was a wonderful new advance. I want to tear into it and see how they did it and what they used. I like to see the craftsmanship and the sturdiness and the earthy materials, metal, wood, leather, fabric. To me that is magical. I'm of the future and I don't like it.

Posted by: Josh at March 14, 2003 04:11 PM

I'm from the past and present, and I love certain portions of technology. I'm amazed that old B&W movies look and sound better on my DVD and widesceen TV. I think big band music sounds super on my CD player, but the pure magic of radio sounds best on out of the 1941 Emerson on my mantle. Plus I love to hunt down the Dinky Toys I had as a kid for my growing collection using my Apple G4 PowerBook on the web. As I said, I love certain portions of technology . . .

Posted by: Christopher at December 4, 2003 09:21 AM

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