Radio—is her heyday waning? For three decades, she was the Queen of media. Families gathered around her dials for the latest news, music, and programming. Listeners closed their eyes and were transported across the globe. Some programs allowed them to travel across the universe, like the fairly recent X Minus Zero.
Then radio’s upstart little sister, television, came upon the scene. Now moving pictures were something that could be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s home. To be sure, the 20 inch black and white screens don’t hold a candle to the panoramic majesty of the movie theater, but for the visually motivated, they provide more entertainment for the minute than the radio experience.
I’m a bit of a radio freak. I have one in virtually every room. The big one is this Philco 38R. It’s a bit the worse for wear—it is twenty years old, after all.
In ’56, I bought a brand new Zenith, a beautiful maroon thing.
What these two radios have in common, despite their disparity in age, are the vacuum tubes that make up the significant part of their innards. Vacuum tubes have been virtually synonymous with technology for 50 years. They’ve gotten smaller over the years, and more sophisticated, but they still take up a lot of space. Thus, truly portable radios, the kind that might fit in a pocket or purse, have been science fiction. They also take a good deal of time to warm up. One has to patiently wait through ten seconds of low hum before the speakers come to life with actual signal.
But, just 12 years ago, a man named Shockley invented the transistor. It does everything the vacuum tube does, but on a little germanium crystal rather than a big bulb. The portable radios coming out now are truly tiny. Their sound quality leaves much to be desired, but one can’t have everything.
The timing is good, too. Dramatic programming has all but vanished from the air waves, probably never to return. Music is another thing entirely. 45 rpm records have completely replaced the old 78s, and slick disc jockeys are adding personality to musical programs. And one doesn’t need to watch music to enjoy it (though Dick Clark might say otherwise). Now I can Shout and do The Twist wherever I may be rather than being tied to the home radio or diner jukebox.
Radio is dead. Long live radio.
(If only there were some sort of RADIOVAC with tape recordings of all of these programs…)