As a child in the 1960s, I enjoyed listening to distant radio stations, I suppose initially for no reason other than because they came from far away. It was a young boy’s hobby based on the accidental discovery of 1050 CHUM in Toronto. Remember, this was quite a feat for a one-transistor, pocket AM radio without an antenna that was the product of 1950s technology. I soon discovered that if I took that little radio outside, even more distant stations were right there on that dial.
Along with my beloved hometown Buffalo Bisons, I also became a fan of the Fort Wayne Komets hockey team, not due to any connection to Indiana, but rather due to my ability to listen to their games on WOWO-AM. This was soon followed by CKLW from Windsor, Ont., a rock ’n’ roll station as powerful as my hometown favorite KB 1520.
It took a couple of years of playing with that little radio for me to figure out that if I snuck outside and listened to the in-dash radio in my father’s Chevy, without starting the car and giving myself away of course, broadcasts from faraway places like New York City, Chicago and on rare occasions Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and other places I had never visited, were right there at my finger tips.
It also didn’t take long for my father to find out why the battery in his car had suddenly died. This was followed by a calmly delivered, yet lengthy and technically detailed lecture from my father, an electrician, on the effects of using a car battery without doing anything to charge said battery.
I was pretty sure that my attempts to intercept the airwaves were over, but my father had other plans. On my very next birthday after the dead battery incident, I received my first shortwave radio. Although portable, it was soon set up on the desk in my bedroom, accompanied by a nearby map of the world, hung on the wall and precisely marked with each foreign city and nation from which I had received a broadcast.
I found it fascinating that with this radio I possessed the ability to listen to nearly anywhere on Earth. That radio was lost many years ago and was eventually replaced by a smaller, though more powerful, technologically modern shortwave radio and left in its box in a closet.
With the passage of time, young boys grow up and their interests and the time available to pursue those interests change. But a funny thing happens along the way. The years pass in the blink of an eye and finally, retirement is upon us, and with it once again comes the time to revive those long-forgotten interests.
In spite of, or perhaps because of computers and the Internet, I recently retrieved that shortwave radio from its box in the back of a closet. With headphones plugged in, I still find it fascinating that just a small built-in antenna allows the other side of the planet to reach me. Some things never change, so there’s a new world map, again carefully marked to represent the distant points that serve as home to a new round of shortwave receptions.
I have rediscovered the joy that accompanies a simple, long-forgotten hobby. Perhaps even more important, with the simple turn of a radio dial, I have rekindled fond memories of my childhood and a long-forgotten birthday where the present that accompanied cake and ice cream turned out to be much more than just a radio. Thanks, Dad.