When I recently heard the term “table radio,” the phrase struck me as a quaint reference to the radios of my childhood. As I envisioned my father’s portable radio on a dusty shelf in the barn on River Road, a Google check quickly updated that image with mention of capabilities perhaps also possible on today’s digital televisions and laptop computers.
I assume the term exists to distinguish modern radio dimension from the large type around which the Walton Family gathered during the Great Depression. I have never actually seen any of those huge radios, sizable enough to qualify as furniture, but we always had a “table radio” in the kitchen – and it was almost always on.
As I recall, our radio was usually tuned to Cincinnati’s WLW, the Nation’s Station. Mother listened to the Reds play baseball, and my father was a regular listener of the station’s farm shows. I particularly remember “Everybody’s Farm” when farm director Bob Miller interviewed the Connor Family, who worked the farm that belonged to the radio station. I was always shocked that the children called their parents by their first names, a practice I could never imagine in the Scott household.
At 7:15 every school morning I ate my soft-boiled egg on toast as a 15-minute devotional program, broadcast from the Cadle Tabernacle in Indianapolis, played in the background. A lady began the program by singing: “Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray?” before scripture readings and a short sermon were offered.
At school we occasionally heard educational radio programs. Listening to an episode of “Uncle Dan from Froggy Hollow Farm” on YouTube refreshed my memory; but I also realized a lone, disembodied middle-aged man describing summer insects would scarcely hold the attention of a 21st century six-grader before the onset of squirmy misbehavior – which my teacher, Bessie Reeves, would never have permitted. Still, it was a novelty to listen to the radio at school while gazing through the window of Mrs. Reeves’ classroom to the fields of Concord Township that lay beyond.
There were scores of radio soap operas, but I grew up watching “Love of Life” and “As the World Turns” on television. I do recall, however, hearing two soaps when I visited my Grandmother Maurice near Rosewood. Characters and plotlines are long gone from my memory, but I do recall the dramatic introductions of “Young Doctor Malone” and “One Man’s Family” emanating from the radio atop Grandma’s refrigerator.
Then came transistor radios, little devices that could be tucked into shirt pockets. I never had one, but the mere idea of listening to a radio not plugged into the wall was a huge leap forward in the independence we take for granted in these days of everything wireless.
My relationship with any kind of radio waned during my college years but picked up again after I started teaching and finally had a decent car radio. On my drive to and from school, I sang along with the Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Jackson 5. On weekend trips to visit friends in Cleveland, I developed a taste for the talk radio format that kept me company.
I also listened to the news – at the top and the bottom of each hour. “War of the Worlds” and the crash of the Hindenburg predated me by a decade or so, and I am much too young to have experienced first-hand anything Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill broadcast over the airwaves. However, I heard about the attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life in 1981 as I drove to Ohio State for a graduate class. And, although I was glued to the television for four straight days after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, I initially learned of the shooting and his death over the school radio at GHS.
News of the deaths of two giants in the music world also came to me via radio. In 1977 the radio in my bedroom at Ingrid’s house woke me with the news of Elvis Presley’s passing. I was not sure I had correctly understood the German announcer, but the death of Elvis was big news the world over. A few years later I learned that John Lennon had been murdered when sobbing callers to the overnight “Larry King Show” reacted to the news of the former Beatle’s death.
Radio broadcasting and listening have inevitably evolved over the years. I no longer hear the “rest of the story” from Paul Harvey or Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club members marching around their tables. Radio announcers still read school closings, but most families today receive them via cellphone texts. Although I am not sure if I own a “table radio” anymore, I still listen to WLW – now The Big One – on iHeartRadio through my computer. Some mornings I even watch the “Mike & Mike” radio show televised on ESPN.
For me, an avowed television-holic, watching TV and listening to the radio are two distinct experiences. Watching television compares with viewing the movie form of a story, while listening to the radio is more closely akin to reading the book version: I am somehow more involved and freer to conjure up my own visions. There is a time for watching and seeing, but there is also a time for listening and imagining – especially when I hear it on the radio.