Turn up the Radio

radio 0720

As part of my never-ending process of unpacking, I opened a box over the weekend with the oddest assortment of random items. Since it probably got packed — thrown together appears to be a more apt description — 13 months ago or more, I imagine there are those who would argue I don’t need a single thing in the box.

But I put the novelization of Star Trek IV (the one with the whales) on the shelf with all my other Trek novelizations, found space for everything else in the box — and then got to my radio.

I wrote about this radio before it went into the box, wondering why I was packing it even as I was learning just how absolutely horrible I am about throwing anything away. But now that I was unpacking it, I had no less a light than Marie Kondo come to my defense.

I kind of feel like the “Kondo Craze” has passed; at least, she’s not in the news every day, and her books and videos aren’t popping up everywhere, even as people not me have had forced time on their hands, some of them using it productively to clean up their lives.

I’m tossing her name around rather cavalierly, considering I have not read a page of her books or viewed an instant of her videos. Her “craze” was just so omnipresent that one didn’t have to buy her products to hear about her minimalist philosophy. I can already tell you, without reading her work, Marie and I would not get along.

But one of her tenets is to hold onto things that bring you “joy,” and I realized, as I wavered indecisively with this artifact from my past in hand, that this radio packs an outsize wave of nostalgia for me.

I don’t know where the radio came from — it might have been a gift from my parents. I don’t even know when exactly the radio arrived other than somewhere during my teen years. There was nothing remarkable about the radio itself: small and gray, with a silver handle and three black buttons, the largest for tuning, the bottom for off/volume, and the mostly unused one in the middle, for “squelch,” which I think helped tamp down extraneous noise.

(The radio did come with a CB band, which is probably where the squelch helped the most. This was during the C.W. McCall craze, not a thing like the Kondo Craze, but thanks to C.W., the mid-’70s were all about the truckers and their lingo. C’mon back, good buddy.)

During daylight hours my radio didn’t offer anything that any other radio in the house couldn’t: the Lawrence Welk-like stylings of KGUC, long the only radio station around, and then the new upstart, KVLE, which promised “your mother’s gonna hate it” but which then played Beatles songs almost exclusively. I believe I’ve said this before: My mother didn’t hate it, but I did.

But at night, upstairs in my room, my own radio offered me an entirely new world of possibility, as the absence of the sun somehow allowed FM radio waves to reach much farther, bringing me the likes of KOMA out of Oklahoma and later X-Rock-80 from the Navajo Nation, with the hourly newscasts presented in the incomprehensible language of the Four Corners region.

Top 40 hits! This probably strikes you as bland and boring, but to me it was the most exciting thing in my life. Music for people my age!

I was not what we would call a worldly kid, or a hip and trendy one. I mean, I wore the bell bottoms and my hair was long and shaggy, but I had no idea what my speech and debate teammates were talking about when they endlessly quoted Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was happy enough to watch the same shows on TV (only three channels, remember, plus PBS) that the rest of my family watched, and I went to the two movies that were available at the Flicka two-screen movie theatre.

But at night I was a cool kid, listening to the hottest music of the day [that’s funny: you have to be hot to be cool] coming out of the tinny speaker on my plugged-in radio. It came with a battery compartment, and I probably did cart the radio around with me on occasion, but mostly I remained in my bedroom, transported far away every night to a world of popular teen tunes.

I would sit at my desk and write while these bands crooned their tunes, the music inspirational in that overly dramatic teen way. Listening to the same music that kids from Oklahoma to Colorado were hearing every night allowed me to start forming my own musical tastes, which admittedly haven’t been particularly Top 40 since the ’80s.

Standing there the other day, old radio in hand, wondering what I ought to do with it, I plugged it in and turned it on. It worked, sort of: I located one station, but when I left and went searching for others, I couldn’t find my way back. But the simple act of turning the tuning dial churned me way back into the past, to all those nights where this whole new world came to me.

And I realized: this radio still brings me joy. It doesn’t really work and I haven’t gone looking for KOMA since I left for college in a large metropolitan area where local stations abounded, but just looking at it made me nostalgic.

I wrapped the cord around it and set it, happily, on my bookcase.

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