Friday, June 7, 2019

Memories of a Transistor Sister



When I was a kid, back in the 1950's, we were born into a booming world of technology--technology for the masses--a profit generator if They* ever saw one. (We'll get them hooked on all this distraction and then, while they aren't looking, we'll kill democracy...)

 Anyhow, in the 1950's we knew we were privileged to have radios and telephones and automobiles and "shots" to keep us alive--after all, our parents and grandparents told us so.  My gen has always had radio--sounds from the air--and had airplanes, telephones, running water, flush toilets and many other things Grandma and Grandpa didn't when they were children.

 Early memories:  stretched on the carpet at the base of sonorous yet stately cabinet of wood with a patterned fabric speaker, listening to Big Band music with adults, or radio plays like the Lone Ranger or The Shadow, or, in my case, Wagner, ballet music and Gilbert + Sullivan. Then, just as puberty was beginning to set in, many of us lucky children of the '50's were given transistor radios. We found the local rock'n'roll station and listened while Soul, Country, and Rockabilly merged. Our homework suffered.

It was big fun to carry your soundtrack with you. I could clamber up onto the barn roof, radio in hand, and listen, undisturbed by adult opinions. In the beginning, these little radios sounded "tinny." Good speakers rendered them bulky to the point where they weren't easily portable.

Then came college, and (far too soon) marriage. C and I were kids, only married. The hip thing among my husband's East Coast buddies was to be an audiophile--so we were, and spent foolish amounts of our parents' hand-out on stereo equipment. C had to study all the magazines for months to be sure that we would get the best bang for our buck, and then draw graphs, too, only to discover that the desired item was rarer than hens' teeth or only for sale in California, so we ended up getting what we could afford in a fancy Boston music store.

The sound was, as promised, wonderful, totally immersive. the diamond needles on the turntable didn't chew up the vinyl. We '60's YA's were a cohort which loved to listen to music--or maybe that's just something all young chimps do.* We sank into popular sound. Folk and Rock combined. We were swept away by the British Invasion. We flew in the Jefferson Airplane and voyaged in the Yellow Submarine; we rode The Soul Train. Dylan was our prophet.  Black rectangular speakers, a pair making like Stonehenge, remain the best focal point of any living room.

In the '80's came Walkman, on which I played cassettes, for my ears only, more Mozart than any other human other than this crazed person could bear. I never made the other great audio leaps forward because this couple had fallen off the technological merry-go-round. Man, the in-house Tinkerer, didn't care so much for new gizmos anymore, so there was none of that in this house.

I hadn't really thought about my life experience of ever-changing music-delivery technology, until the other day, when I cajoled my cell phone--I am VERY LATE to that particular party--to play Jump Into The Fire. There I was, moving my old bones to the song issuing from my little Apple phone, while flashing back to the "Transistor Sister" era, now so long ago and that first, rather heavy, portable radio. The box from which the sound came on this occasion was significantly smaller, but the quality was about the same.

"Radio, Someone still loves you..." Even if streaming is the correct name for the current delivery system.

~~Juliet Waldron

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* No more about Them today.

*I say that because most age-mates have given up on listening to music. If they do listen, well, it's mostly oldies from those thrilling days of yesteryear.