The Old Days

By: Calvin B. Colt

I continue to marvel at the latest technology: iPods, MP3s, DVDs, HDTV, GPS, Satellite Communications, etc., etc., etc.  In the 1930s we were quite thrilled by a radio in a cabinet that might also be holding a clock.  I can still see the one my folks bought. It sat on a table in the living room and was able to receive 10 or 15 stations on AM.  Radio was pretty new, but it was organized in Networks with names still known today NBC and CBS for example.  The cartoon character, Dick Tracy, had a two-way wrist radio and was way ahead of his time.  Programming was simple.  News in the morning until nine; soap operas during the day; kids programs like Orphan Annie, Jack Armstrong  the All-American Boy, and others that came on about 5:00 PM.  In the evening we had news and commentary, but after 7: 00 PM came the shows:  Kraft Music Hall with Bing Crosby, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Fibber McGee and Molly, and others.  They came on weekly and most were a half-hour long.  The best ones were programs like Lights Out, The Shadow, and The Lone Ranger.  We were pretty happy with these and many others, for with the sound-effects used we could readily imagine locations and action.  We participated in what was happening much as one does when reading a book.

Radio technology did advance from the living room eventually.  One day 1936 my Mother picked  me up at school, and as I  got into our 1935 black Ford, 4 door convertible, with leather seats, running boards, white walls and wire wheels, and a  spare tire mounted in back continental style, I heard something I’d never heard before.  My Mother smiled at me as I realized we now had an after market radio in the car.  This was very exciting and forward looking stuff in those days.  (Sadly no heater yet). Between that and the new phone we had installed in our apartment, I felt like we were on what was later called, “the cutting edge."

My Dad liked to buy the latest thing including an electric clothes washer with a wringer that was installed in the kitchen.  Of course, Mom had to take the wash up one floor to the roof to dry the clothes outside.  But the item I remember well was a portable radio he got for Mom.  It looked like a piece of tan luggage.  It was about 14 inches tall and 12 inches wide and 4 inches deep.  The top had a lid that, when opened, revealed a dial and two knobs for volume and station selection.  We were pretty excited.  It could play when plugged into the wall, but, remember, I said it was portable.   The back opened up and revealed a wet cell batter system.  Periodically we put distilled water into it and it hummed along.  It had good range and played all the stations we liked.  YepFind Article, there we were: right at the “cutting edge."                                                                                                          

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