My Radio Path
When I was 11 years old in 1984 I had things lots of GenX may have had to keep me entertained. Of course the TV. I also was lucky enough to have a loving single mother who knew computers were going to be the future and had a refurbished Commodore 64 that I am pretty sure the neighbors helped buy me. Phil, damn it, I was a shy young man and I regret to this day I never chased you down as an adult and thanked you for your kindness and generosity. That $150 (I estimate) you helped fund for my mom change my life in was you’d never guess.
Anyway. Now that we’re warmed up for the heartwarming story of my radio discovery, let’s move on. 1984 was 4th Grade for me at Benson Hill Elementary in Renton, Washington. My teacher was Cecil Mullen, a five-star American. Kind, smart, classy and with belief in education.
The last two weeks of our 4th grade year, we must have been ahead of schedule because after lunch recess we’d come in and we were allowed to put our heads down on our desks and he’d play cassettes of old time radio shows. The big windows let the sun shine in and our little bodies easily settled into quietness as “Blue Coal” brought us stories of The Shadow! We loved the advertisements and the idea something as “old” as radio could be so vivid and fun.
For anyone younger than me, this was way before the internet. ˆThe only real time mediums other than TV were the telephone or the radio. I was too afraid of girls for the telephone to be useful to me so I had to get my jollies with radio in the “after hours”. The “after hours” would be anytime after official bed time… you know… disobeying mom. There was to be a discovery in mere months that our computers could talk to each other over the phone lines — another thing I can thank my benefactor Mr. Harris for serving up and a huge head start in the pre-worldwide web era.
For Christmas years before I received a great little RCA AM transistor radio. It only had AM. Not even AM/FM! I’d listen to the Mariners lose late into the night, Dave Niehaus in his “night” voice, a register slower… a notch quieter and more slowly.. spinning us a yarn about the old days [here’s the 1-1 pitch, fouled off down the 1st base line] and how it connected to this baseball game tonight.
In 4th Grade I began using an alarm clock radio (General electric, rectangular with red LEDs). It was AM/FM but it only had one speaker so the thrill wore off. It had a way bigger speaker than my transistor radio so it made returning the much more interesting AM band a little more nice.
One night I was up past midnight, later than normal and was bored. I happened to move my radio and noticed the signal went away nearly completely before rotating it back to its position. This got me wondering.. I tuned slowly up the dial, rotating the radio every little move and started hearing faint and strong stations I’d never heard before. Canada! And what’s this on 810? KGO? Where is that? I listened to a talk radio show for a half hour mostly bored but when they got to the news and wether identified themselves as KGO San Fransisco! All the way to my little bedroom in Renton!
But what came next was even more important! They began playing old time radio shows over the next few hours which had me overjoyed with entertainment … so I listened until I fell asleep. I woke to static very early in the morning and immediately wondered what happened to my station. I went to school Monday morning with one thing on my mind: asking Mr. Mullins about this radio station.
He knew enough about radio to tell me that radio signals can travel far distances! After dusk through predawn appeared to be times most likely to let it happen… and I spent many late nights trying to hear every state. I began buying radio magazines you could only find at really nearly newspaper stands.
I was ready to install a CB in my first car in 1990 (https://allfalldown2.wixsite.com/mysite/post/the-low-odds-high-desirability-event-cars-girls, read next!) and indeed I did. It went from something goofy and fun for me and my friends to actually having life time connections with folks I’ve only known over the airwaves, never met in person! I learned the thrill of a radio that could only expect 50-100 miles at best sometimes could communicate with stations hundreds or thousands of miles away because of the ionosphere being able to bounce those signals back to earth many times to extend its range. I had conversations on my $150 radio all the way to Hawaii and Alaska! I kept a man company for a bit each night that was stuck for the winter in Sitka. He was funny! I wonder what happened to him?
And as I type this at age 50, I’m KJ7GKX. I studied for and got my tech license a couple years ago and my record for “reaching out” is from Seattle to Australia, Brazil and Japan on 10m. 8600 miles is my furthest!
Do you know someone you want to lend a helping hand to who hasn’t? Do it now. A single family in the neighborhood with a boy who may need to see a man who is kind, thoughtful and encouraging? Meet him. Have some coin to get a kid into something that will be with them eternally? Move on it.