April 11, 2014
Like Marcel Proust commenting on the cookie that brought up memories, the Sony transistor radio serves the same role in my life. It was probably the first real serious object that I owned. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the radio originally cost, but it was a magical entrance to another world. As I was going through my storage boxes I ran across the radio, and I couldn’t believe I still had it. For me, the first time I seriously listened to music was on this hand held machine. The sound or the reception was never perfect, but it somehow added a sense of magic to the process. There is what you heard when you see musicians play live, and then there is music you hear in a recording studio, and then of course on the turntable, where we had one huge speaker - mono only in the mid 1960s. But the transistor radio had its own sound, which was tinny, and of course thinking of it now, it would be really annoying to listen to music that way. But alas, my earliest impression of contemporary music that I liked, was on the transistor radio. Also it was the first medium or tool for me to use that separate me from my parent’s taste. Otherwise, I would get my music from my parents record collection and turntable. My radio allowed me to wander into another world, where only I, can decide what to hear and when to hear it.
The two radio stations that were important to me were KHJ and KRLA. The latter was actually more important to me because it appeared to be more Beatle related than KHJ. That was likely to be an illusion on my part, but also the radio station had a newspaper called KRLA Beat, that was sort of like Rolling Stone for the teenage mind. It was in this publication where I first started reading about music or I should say rock an’ roll stars as they were happening at that time. KHJ was more personable due to it's DJ, specifically the Real Don Steele.
When I was close to 11 or 12, I went camping on the beach, which was a total horror show for me. I can never understand the allure of nature for people. It is like they actually prefer dirt than a nice clean lighted place. The point of time when the hot afternoon turns into a bitter cold evening is disgusting to me. I remember spending most of the time in the tent that we brought with us. Even that, the temperature was just so hot, but still, I didn’t want to be outside. So I put up with the heat to read the comic books that I brought with me to fight off the boredom of sand, blue sky, and ocean. The transistor radio brought a sense of relief for me, because I used it as an object to block out the noise on the beach. But what was really beautiful to me was playing the radio in the night, and I often would go off by myself near the ocean to sit on the cold sand. I put the radio by my ear and it was like getting messages from another world. I couldn’t imagine life without that radio.
Also the use of my imagination kept me alert during our beach holidays. I imagine myself as Boy, the son of Tarzan. Often I would imagine that my dad was the King of the Jungle, instead of Johnny Weissmuller. I would have these elaborate narratives running through my head that I saved my dad and Jane (actually my mom) from some horrible circumstances that went beyond their control. Those fantasies came with the soundtrack that was on the radio, and I remember actually listening to a program called “The Shadow” while on the beach as well. Hearing a show like that was very mysterious and a tad scary -especially in the nighttime on the beach.
Ironically I played “Boy” to Taylor Mead’s Tarzan in an Andy Warhol film, but that’s another narrative. Nevertheless I am always thankful for Sony for bringing the magic of another world to me.