The cheap red portable radio sat near the cash register on top of a display case at my stepfather’s grocery store. From start to finish each work day the six “C” cell batteries inside powered the transistors to bring music into my world. My Mother always had music going and lucky for me she liked the Top 40 music of the mid-60’s. During the school year I worked in the store every day after school and all day Saturday plus six days a week in summer. That red radio was a constant good friend.
The time was 1963 to 1968, a time of great transition in music and in the country. WVOK was a 50,000 watt ‘daytime’ AM radio station 70 miles away in Birmingham that broadcast from sunup to sundown. The red radio brought the station in loud and clear all during the daytime.
Through a $1 speaker came my first hearing of The Beatles at a time when Louie Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” and Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” fit right in on the same radio station. During that year I wished “my feet were fireproof” with the Drifters and wondered “where did our love go” with the Supremes. My world was invaded by songs from Brittan by Chad and Jeremy, The Animals, The Dave Clark Five soon followed by the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks and Tom Jones. From radio broadcasts I learned about the “Mods” and the “Rockers” fighting in the streets in England and heard the first ads for a new car called the “Mustang”.
As time passed the cheap radio’s volume knob became scratchy when the setting was changed, but was OK otherwise. With a regular feeding of fresh “C” cells my red friend continued to create a soundtrack for my young teen life. The Beatles were still going strong, but American acts started to strike back against the British Invasion. Leading that charge were The Righteous Brothers, Four Tops, Lovin’ Spoonful, Tommy James, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett. It was about this time I heard about the riots in LA with entire blocks being burned. Tmuch here were riots closer to home in Selma. In contrast Walt Disney announced plans to build in Orlando.
In 1966 I turned 13 and heard about the WVOK “Winter Shower of Stars” at the Birmingham Auditorium. I went with Mike Sparks and his sister to see my first concert: Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Buckingham’s, Tommy James, Lou Christie, Neil Diamond, The Music Explosion, Jon & Robin and a few more I can’t remember. That was quite a line-up for a first concert experience and for me a magical time.
The following March news of a “Spring Shower of Stars” came out of the speaker of that old radio. Once I heard the list of the artists appearing I just had to go: The Young Rascals, the Union Gap, Lemon Pipers, Billy Joe Royal, Gene and Debbie, Roy Head and more. The Rascals were the first band I ever saw “jam” and two of the guys were outfitted in full hippe regalia. I liked what I saw and in the time came to adopt that mode of being first witnessed in person at the show.
From the innards of that cheap radio I heard about the Gemini space flights, Freedom Marches, draft cards being burned, a war in a place called Viet Nam and the protests against it. The red radio told me about the assignations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and when Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. I heard about the first warnings on the cigarette packs and listened to Coke teach the world to sing. I also knew when Elvis married Priscilla. How did I know? My radio told me.
Clearly I can in memory see that red music box of my youth which gave me a vision into the world with just the sound it produced. I even ordered the first records I ever had from Rumore’s Record Rack who advertised on the radio and gave free records with every order!
I have no idea what happened to that old radio that looked just like the one pictured at the top of this page. Through lots of odd and difficult times what came through the transistors and out the speaker shaped a good portion of my musical tastes. At a time when “made in China” was not a positive designation that red plastic radio with the handle on top made an impact on me to a greater degree than most people I knew then or have known since. With just two controls, volume and tuning, it was my portal to the whole world. I am wildly grateful for all I gained from that box of wires and stuff. Just writing about it moved my age back at least a year or two!
Last night I sent to see “1964: The Tribute” which is a musical tribute to the early Beatles. I appreciate that show for kicking off this trip down memory lane. Thanks for the great show guys!
We do not remember days; we remember moments. Cesare Pavese