As I salivate at getting several new iPhone 4s smartphones via some kind of “family plan” and try to decide what storage capacity I’ll need to replace my worn-out-but-serviceable iPod Classic, my thoughts return to the gadgets of my youth.
My first memory is of an old “crystal radio” that made use of a wire “cat whisker” detector to connect with a sensitive spot on the surface of a Galena crystal. I think the radio belonged to my dad when he was a kid. Selecting the right spot would tune in one station, WBNS radio in Columbus Ohio, the single station this unpowered device would receive. The earphone was a disc shaped black bakelite disk with a screw off cover in which a thin circular plate of metal lay against a magnet. The sound was faint but listenable, especially late at night when the local station broadcast country western music. You had to be careful not to jostle the radio or the connection between the wire and the crystal would be lost.
My next memorable gadget was a red plastic “rocket radio” that did away with the cat’s whisker and replaced it with a rod that slid in and out of the red case. You still had to clip an alligator clip to a “ground” of some sort and trail a long wire antenna somewhere to receive a station. I remember with this made-in-Japan device that I could receive two, maybe three stations. It had an earplug type earphone so it was much more portable and aesthetically pleasing than the older crystal radio. I don’t remember how old I was when I got this but I definitely felt it was “high tech.”
Next was the first really amazing piece of technology I remember getting for Christmas one year — the Zenith Royal 50 transistor radio. It was totally portable, ran on batteries, and you could switch back and forth between speaker or earplug type earphone. You didn’t have to trail a long antenna wire or clip a wire to some kind of metallic ground. It was small enough to fit in a pocket. The device would clearly receive every AM radio station in Central Ohio and at night could pick up, when the weather was right, stations as far away as Boston and New York. Plus there were those late night stations that played country and western music for long distance truck drivers. I had this radio for many years and still remember the solid “click” the on-off switch made.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald