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The closet swallowed my transistor radio

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

I am digging deep into the closet. I knew I put that transistor radio in there, somewhere.

Let me back up a little. Transistor radios are how we used to listened to over-the-airwaves music when we were on the go. The transistor replaced the vacuum tube, which made radios lighter and portable.

I grew up with them, but the transistor dates back to 1947, when the brains at Bell Laboratories announced their invention. Then it took a while to work them into radios and televisions.

Computerization had made the transistor bulky and cumbersome, but back in its heyday, it was a giant leap from turning on the radio or TV and waiting for the vacuum tubes to heat up. It was instantly on, which was at the time magical, at least to me.

I used to go to the park with my radio and listen to baseball games. I would walk through the woods at summer camp playing a Top 40 station. I’m sure I would have enjoyed those walks more by just listening to the sounds of nature, but I was young and didn’t know better.

Back to the top of this column. I remember putting one of those old radios in the closet. It seems like almost everything I own winds up eventually in a closet. There was nothing wrong with it. I just wasn’t using it.

But recently, I loaned my other radio, my favorite one with a bigger speaker, to a relative, who was staying alone in a house with no TV or radio.

I hated to do it, because the one I gave him is the same type that I listened to as a kid, but I felt sorry for the guy.

I usually don’t part with these toys, but I made an exception. Being the geek that I am, it made me a little uncomfortable, but I wanted to do something special for him.

That other radio has to be in the back of the closet somewhere. Now that I loaned out my best one, I need the second-best, which is a GE AM/FM smaller radio that doesn’t sound as good.

I could listen to a radio app on my smartphone, but it’s not the same. I do that also, by the way, when I want to listen to a radio station in another part of the country or world.

I bought my first transistor radio in Vienna in 1966 at the age of 10. I set it to a classical station and listened to its tinny sound as I tried to imagine what the future holds. That radio stayed on a lot. We had plenty of batteries. At night, it would even tune in a very weak, scratchy AM station from the old country.

Old habits are hard to break, so I always keep an old transistor radio around the house and take it from room to room. But I can’t find the second-best one I have because the closet has swallowed it.

Why couldn’t those guys at Bell Labs somehow incorporate a homing beacon in those transistors so they could emit a signal from the corner of my closet, or wherever that radio is?

Probably because they were just happy to invent this thing without having to put all kinds of extras on it. I studied electronics in high school. That stuff is complicated. Those little waves have to go through a lot of circuitry, transistors, capacitors and resistors to make it to that speaker.

I found it, right where I put it a decade or so ago. It was hiding behind a bunch of old 45 RPM records, which is fodder for a later column. I didn’t even know I still had those records. They were way in the back, covering up the radio.

A little cleaning and a new battery, and it is ready to be turned on. That’s better. Now, where is that oldies station on this dial?

Editor's Note: In the photo is one of John's old transistor radios that he still uses today.