Radio Daze

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It's funny how an ordinary object from your past can cause you to reminisce and conjure up memories long thought forgotten. Imagine the stories coming out of a silenced radio….

A simple black plastic box about the size of an average paperback book, the gold paint highlights the upraised letters across the bottom- ADMIRAL Super 7. Next to the name sits a familiar crown logo. A simple brass carrying handle bends backward, allowing it to set at a 45 degree angle for easy access. The AM station numbers array themselves in a half-starburst pattern, emanating from the large gold tuning knob. That this radio was a product of the Cold War era is revealed by the "CD" markings at the top and bottom of the frequency spectrum. Remember CONELRAD, the Civil Defense network we were instructed to turn to if the "big one" came? The knurled gold on-off/volume knob hovers on the left side, equidistant from the station sunburst, as if the Earth were orbiting the Sun. Dad's radio, despite its Spartan elegance was an entrée into another world when I was a boy.

The Super 7 seemed to always be in use- from Dad's listening to the Milwaukee Braves' baseball games on the back stoop to the morning news on WHBY as he prepared his coffee before work.

When I couldn't sleep, Dad would sometimes let me listen to his radio. I'd tweak the tuning knob and be whisked away to exotic places (at least for a 13 year old boy in northeastern Wisconsin.) Late at night, the powerful signals of the country's megawatt AM stations would be captured by the Super 7's tuner- KMOX in St. Louis; WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana; WLS in Chicago; KOMA in Oklahoma City; and my favorite, WABC in New York. I would delight in catching the opening of disc jockey Jay Reynolds' shift from midnight to five. WABC had a distinctive sound, but nothing to me was as memorable as hearing Jay's "drop," one of those short sound bites they play now and then on any radio station with the DJ's name and call letters. WABC was big on reverb, a sound trick that made everything sound as stereophonic as possible in the days before FM Stereo was the norm. And they used that electronic synthesizer sounding voice, you know, the way robots used to sound in old sci-fi movies? I thought that was so cool. To this day, each time I hear the intro to Three Dog Night's "Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song," I wait to hear the drop of "Jay Reynolds, WABC."

After Dad died, I was sorry for years that I hadn't talked Mom out of his radio to keep as a memento. Somewhere along the way, the old Admiral bit the dust; Mom's not sure any more if she sold it off in a rummage sale or junked it when it quit working. And when I finally asked about it, it was too late.

The last few years, I've been on a quest to find an Admiral Super 7 and with the advent of the internet, I was able to renew my acquaintance with the old warhorse. It took a while, but through a popular auction site, I scored a nifty little copy for the exorbitant sum of $9.99 plus shipping. I was even able to get it in Dad's color- basic black. This was a rather important detail as I'd seen photos of the same model in white, gray, and even a day-glo orange. Imposters!

On my bookshelf today is my very own Admiral Super 7, looking as if I was still seeing it in my Dad's room. No, it isn't his radio but it might as well be. It is silent for now. I may open it up one day to see if I can make it crackle to life, but even if I succeed, it won't be the same. Whatever I might hear through its speaker today could never match the memory of what it played some 40 years before. AM radio is mostly talk now anyway. So, for now, I am content to think of my Dad while I admire its circa 1960 simplicity. And, every now and then, I remember a time when my world was made a little less black and white, colored by a DJ in New York playing "The Best Music, WABC."