The kid and his AM transistor radio

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

The kid was walking down the street holding to his ear a small transistor radio.

He could have listened to it through an earphone, but holding it gave him something to do while walking those 10 blocks to school.

He could have taken the bus. He had a bus pass. But he chose to walk and play the radio.

His choice of stations were limited to Top 40 hits with Cousin Brucie on the morning shift, or Top 40 hits with a.m. shock jock Don Imus and his “Imus in the Morning” show. Either way, it was Top 40.

That’s what Don Imus was doing way before he became a talk show host and a radio icon. He didn’t mind taking risks. He was like an early bird Howard Stern, but perhaps tamer. It was the 1960s and ‘70s, after all.

The kid liked the Motown hits the best. Those songs were engineered to be played on AM radio, staying away from the highs and lows of the sound spectrum. Diana Ross and the Supremes was one of the groups popping out big hits meant to be played over the AM band. They sounded great.

AM was king of rock-and-roll back in those days. FM had classical music, show tunes, album rock and public broadcasting. AM had the good stuff.

The kid was holding his radio to his ear with one hand, and carrying his school bag with the other. On Sundays, he used to go down to the local park and listen to the football game. The game sounded better on that radio. He could have watched it on TV also, but he prefered to walk around the park with his friends and listen to the game.

In his hand was a General Electric, “all transistor” radio. It had a built-in ferrite antenna and a 2¼-inch dynamic speaker. That meant that the sound was a little better quality than your phone at that time.
You’d think that back in those days we’d be making radios in the U.S. We did some, but this one was made in Hong Kong.

The suggested list price was $4.95, which included the radio, earphones, 9-volt battery, and a “gift box.”

The gift box was actually just the box it came in. But if you gave the radio as a gift to someone, then it would become a gift box.

The kid played the heck out of that little radio, battery after battery. And then it broke.

The kid took it apart and looked inside. He was no technician and didn’t know exactly for what he was looking. While $4.95 in the ‘60s was more than it is now, it still wasn’t such a high amount that he couldn’t buy another one.

He could save his lunch money each day and buy one in a week. But then he would be hungry in the afternoon, so that wasn’t such a good idea. Or, he could ask his mother for the money, which is usually what a 12-year-old kid would do.

He saw that a wire inside the radio was dangling. It should have been connected to something. And then he saw that it used to be attached to a small copper connector sticking out of the circuit board.

Ignoring warnings on the back of the cover not to attempt to service the radio himself and a recommendation to mail it to a certified service center, the kid stripped the wire with a sharp kitchen knife and wrapped it tightly around the connector.

The kid had no idea what that wire did, but the radio started working again, and it worked for many more years.

The radio was cheap enough to just buy another one. But this was not about money. It was about figuring out what was wrong and then correcting it. It was about problem-solving.

I don’t know what happened to that little old radio. I probably threw it away after I bought my bigger and better sounding AM-FM GE transistor radio.

But I found one just like it on eBay a while ago. I sent in my $20, including shipping, and in a few days I was holding one in my hands - the same model GE radio that I spent so much time holding in my hands as a kid.

There was no gift box or earphone that came with this one, but the seller did include a battery.

It works great, but Cousin Brucie is long-gone, and Imus is on some cable channel in the mornings, finishing out his last gig. The Supremes broke up shortly after I got the original radio.

I turned it on and put it to my ear. Sports radio sounds really good on it.