Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 26, 2013

Gary's World: Old radio sparks thoughts of history

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — A wonderful find at a yard sale recently left me pondering and reflecting about American history.

Often times my discoveries of old, bygone treasures at yard sales leave me baffled as to why someone would get rid of something that was, at one time, an important part of the past.

A recent example of this instance was when I purchased a 1940 Philco 40-140 table radio. The radio is table top size, smaller sized for a table, is powered by tubes and has three bands — AM, shortwave and police band.

The seller had no idea if the radio worked and said it had been sitting in their garage for years. I took a chance.

After I got it home I plugged it up, turned it on and waited for about 30 seconds for the tubes to warm up and the radio came on. Along with it came that old, familiar scent of power tubes burning dust, the hum, and the muffled sound and static as I dialed in an AM radio station.

As luck would have it, I found one. There aren’t too many AM radio stations available these days — especially up on the Plateau.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but think of both my dad and my stepfather. They were both radio fans. My dad still listens to ball games on the radio.

When I was young and would complain about not being able to watch TV, or there being nothing on TV he would say, “You know what we watched on TV when I was little? Nothing. We didn’t have a TV. There was no TV. All we had was the radio, books, or the newspaper.”

Dad and my stepfather both grew up during the depression. My dad told me stories of days in the '30s and early '40s how the family had one radio and the only station they listened to was the one grandpa wanted. There was no other choice, unless grandma wanted to listen to something different.

Their entertainment came from listening to radio programs, reading, playing games or playing outside.

As a child, whenever we went on trips in the car, dad would listen to the AM radio in the car. I had a pocket transistor radio that I would listen to late at night in my bedroom, hidden under the covers, with the one earphone piece plugged in so mom and dad couldn’t hear me awake, listening to WLS out of Chicago.

After my parents divorced and I lived with mom and my stepfather, he almost exclusively listened to the radio. He didn’t watch TV much at all, unless it was a western or a Cubs baseball game. Day in and day out, before and after work he listened to the radio for everything. I was subjected to radio throughout my childhood and young adult years.

So as I listened to the 1940 Philco radio, I began to ponder the significance of this particular radio, which was made in America, like most everything else in the '40s. I'm sure the family who owned it listened to a lot of American history through this work of art.

Can you imagine the news events that have been broadcast through this radio? The bombing of Pearl Harbor, presidential speeches, WWII news and updates, significant events of the '40s, '50s and '60s. I'm sure they were all played through this piece of American culture.

I’m certain that during the 40s, this radio had to be an important part of some family’s life. It probably meant everything to them.

But now, after some estate sale, a collector bought it and it sat for decades.

When I think about technology now and how much it has spoiled everyone, it irritates me and makes want to pick up a book, or maybe listen to the AM radio.

But then again, I’m thankful because the technology with cell phones, Internet and electronic devices has brought much benefit and convenience to our world. I mean, imagine how many people would be lost if they couldn't use their GPS and had to actually read a map for directions.

I'm sure some day people will be finding vintage iPhones, iPods, laptop computers and iPads at yard sales, pointing at them and laughing at the technology of yesterday.

When iOS 27 comes out, I shudder to think of the amount of people who will be strutting around, bragging about how they just updated their communication device — the "limited" iPhone 25 silver edition.

Undoubtedly, there will be some folks kicking back, listening to their first-generation iPod, thinking of the good old days.

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Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com.