- - - - - AM Radio, Tune up your ears, close your eyes and let your imagination soar.
An interesting look back at the golden age of radio through the eyes of a different generation. Many of us all have fond memories of AM radio, all age groups have most likely had an experience or two with AM. Do you remember those late nights listening to the Radio Theater?
How about the ball game you're favorite radio talk show and yes the hours of music you have enjoyed. The static crashes blasting through as though they were meant to be there, it all became part of the atmosphere. As one from a younger generation recalls the memories of that classic era, I am sure it will arouse a few memories of your own. Young or old all has had many joyous hours listening to radio. So break out that imagination and read an interpretation of what radio was to a young man and how much of a part of growing up it became as seen through his eyes.
I can remember many years ago as a child my parents got me my first transistor AM radio. It was in the early 70's when the invention of the silicon transistor was still relatively state of the art technology. As I recall it was a 5 transistor radio. The manufacture was proud to announce that it had indeed 5 transistors. I guess it spread from the predecessors when the number of vacuum tubes it incorporated judged the quality of a radio. A 9-volt battery powered it, as I remember the batteries back then also stressed the recent development of the transistor. They were not just any battery they were transistor radio batteries. I used to carry my little receiver everywhere I went, shopping with Mom, in the car and I would stuff it under the pillow. I could listen to my favorite hit songs while I'm supposed to be sleeping. Or I'd listen to the Adventures of Superman or Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger. There were many more of those radio classics I used to enjoy. Of course at my age many of these radio wonders were already re-runs from long before I came around. There were often re-runs due to a limited supply of a somewhat new episode. But all the same they still brought that charm no matter how many times you had heard it before. Kind of like that bedtime story you would always beg Mom to tell you over and over again. I grew up in Great Britain where I had become fond of a particular group of actors who seemed to be just as funny on Radio as they were on the Tele. Known as Monty Python's Flying Circus the group of gentlemen that entertained me for hours. Their style of theater could be enjoyed on both TV and Radio. Their skits were usually fictional and funny, arguments, somewhat tasteless comedy was a big part of the English culture. A lot of the comedy was dry to most American people but hilarious to the British. They seemed to have brought to the 70's what was so popular in the early years of Radio. Although most of the group's popularity was on the TV they were still very entertaining on Radio and Records as well.
AM Radio can still bring along with it the sensation of how radio used to be. The sensation is still there, that classic AM sound, there's nothing like it. The faint hiss like a slight breeze passing your ear. Can you remember when the family would gather around the RCA Radio Receiver and prepare to listen to the RKO Radio Theater? It all begins with the familiar tune of the opening marquee, as you listen to the Morse code spell out RKO Radio at a moderate speed. Then the radio announcer that we all pretended to be at some point in time refreshes our memory on last week's show. Then it begins, as you pass through another dimension. Brace yourself for another adventure of sound and imagination. "Look! Up in the sky!" you would hear a man say as you hear the familiar rush of air. "It's a bird!" Someone would say "Its a plane, no its Superman!", and the story begins; "It sounds like a terrible storm is approaching Clark" Lois Lane would say, as the sound crew rumbles a steel sheet like the eruptions of a thunder clap. Whistling into the mike as you feel the gust of wind howling through your bones. "Yes Lois looks like a bad one" you hear things being tossed around giving the picture of a strong wind tossing garbage cans about. Little taps on a small cooking pot would remind you of dripping rain. The sounds and the voices were all it would take to let your own imagination take off.
As the show continues you find yourself deeper and deeper into your own thoughts and you don't need the pictures, you can see it in your mind. As the suspense builds and the glue between your pants and the chair begins to harden, the show reaches a climax and..."What will happen to Superman? Will the storm takes it toll? Tune in next week to another thrilling adventure of Superman.."..
Radio has also allowed us to reach to deep into imagination. Like the classic Orson Wells story "War of the Worlds". That was one of the proven factors as to how much radio can touch the lives of many. Radio has also brought us some of the saddest news you would want to hear. The assassination of our president or the death of a beloved hero, The news that war has broken out and our sons will be sent away to fight. Of course Radio has given us some of the best news we would ever like to hear, The War is over our boys will be coming home. The Eagle has landed, a small step for man, Giant leap for mankind.
Today's Television seems to have taken away the special talent of imagination. You hear, you see and now in some instances you even feel and smell the surroundings. As I listened to the radio shows and could see it all clearly. I can remember opening my mind and seeing Superman fighting that evil villain and bringing him to justice. I could see that masked man riding his horse Silver through the dusty plains of the Wild West. It was my thoughts and my imagination that portrayed the pictures I saw. With only my imagination nothing to block my path and show me what it was I should have seen. All that seems to be lost in today's society. Pictures showing you how you should see it happen, constantly distracting you from the use of your own mind.
It is always very hard for me to just listen to television. I find that television it constantly demands your fullest attention. The gestures and the situations all require you to watch at all times, no imagination allowed here. Even the radio of today leaves little for one to open their mind and become part of the scene. The lack of listener participation is one of the downfalls. You won't find a radio show like those of yesteryear anymore. They seem to have gotten left behind and lost in the past. It used to be that the radio was based on what individuals wanted to hear. Requests were common practice at most radio stations. Now with the radio of today you are lucky if they ever play your request. In the golden age of radio even the commercials themselves were entertaining. The commercials had a style of their own, some acted out live by the actors and actresses in the studio. You never know what could happen live. Others were merely announcements brought out with that thunderous voice of the heavens that every announcer wishes he had. Some with that sweet feminine voice of a beautiful young lady telling you how white you're whites could be if you used her detergent. Today there seems to be the big rush for the best radio commercial ever made, all the while they have lost that appeal. Hardly any originality if any at all, stale ideas and canned announcements seems to be the most part of today's commercials.
The Radio Theater has become something only your Grandmother remembers. Today the radio studios have become a broom closet's full of records and a chair. Instead of a studio with facilities to accommodate live performances. Shows like Amos and Andy are long gone. The life of Riley seems to have died. Sherlock Holmes has solved his last case. As far as the music goes Benny Goodman, Count Bassie, Les Brown and Glen Miller all seem to be something you might hear about on a PBS special and very seldom on the radio. Few radio stations play the real "Oldies" a few are lost in the 50's, some are stuck in the 60's and 70's. Most of the others can't make up their mind what time frame they're in. There is an entire Era of our history that seems to have faded away never to be seen again.
I would love to see someone bring back that Radio style, that atmosphere. Bring back the realm of imagination that's been locked away in everyone's mind. I guess all this has gone away with the vacuum tube much like micro circuitry has replaced the transistor. What will we have next? Implanted radios that run from our own battery of life. Maybe Radio will be obsolete, everyone will be engulfed in the television and will never want to leave it alone.
Still to this day with the cleanest quality noise reduction on that stereo FM station playing only the finest CD material. With the advent of AM Stereo there seems to be a big part of radio that is missing. Radio seems to have lost that personality it once had. The static you heard on the record, that soothing voice of a person who made you feel a part of the show. The natural static crashes and that selective fading that all become part of the entertainment. After you listen to it for a while it just becomes part of that personality called AM Radio.
AM always had a warm spot in my heart, call me old fashioned or out of date. But there is just that hidden enchantment about Amplitude Modulation. I can't explain why or how, I just enjoy that nostalgic style of entertainment. How I do love that old girl we so affectionately call "Ancient Mary".
So the next time you listen to your favorite radio show sit back and remember how it used to be. If weren't around back then, much like myself. Sit back and remember what you have just read. No Television to spread the news. No fancy pictures with the sounds, only the limitations of your imagination could stop you. The radio may have been the only connection you had to the outside world.
Farewell to all of the Short-wave listeners, the shut-ins and all the Ships at sea, Until next time we meet, happy listening and may you always stay in tune. Keep that "Magic Eye" locked in on your favorite station and open your imagination. - - - - - -
Randy is a strong advocate in the Amateur Radio community to preserve Amplitude Modulation. He holds an Advanced Class Amateur Radio license. His station can be heard on or around 3.885 MHz AM along with several other AM radio enthusiasts. His Amateur Radio call sign is N3LRX, email is firstname.lastname@example.org .