Listening to the radio meant more to us of the pre-TV generations than all of the images that now flash into our hands and homes, marvelous as they are.
My grandparents had a Delco-powered radio before the coming of electricity to rural south Logan County. The equipment that made this power source work was housed in the corner of Grandma’s washhouse, not many steps from the kitchen door. My uncle was always going there and tinkering with wires and complicated-looking stuff in an effort to up the power level.
Every Saturday night we would walk the short distance down the lane to Grandpa and Grandma’s house to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. We could expect leg-slapping jokes, heart wrenching sad songs and fiddle music that would make everyone jump up and do a turn or two in the middle of the floor.
In spite of the great entertainment,I often fell asleep in someone’s lap and Papa had to carry me home on his back, he holding my legs and letting my arms drape around his neck.
Then came electricity. I still remember the image of Papa coming toward the house from a trip to town holding a radio under his arm. The case was ivory-colored celluloid and had a handle on top, making it easy to transfer from room to room and plug in.
Wealthier folks bought radios that were mounted inside a nice wood case, some freestanding as a piece of furniture. I was never envious. Our little radio brought the world into our home. Who cared about its looks.
Work plans were made so that everyone could be around the table eating dinner when the noontime news came on. We had to be quiet so we could catch every word, especially the weather forecast. Papa would go back to the field, motivated to prepare for weather conditions that were coming.
Especially during World War II was the radio important. Our ears were glued to the broadcaster’s words, hoping for good news, bracing for the bad.
Everybody listened to the radio, so conversations came easily as neighbors and friends visited. They would share jokes of comedians, “review” the weekly favorite programs and join in analyzing the ten o’clock reports about the war.
When a picture of a radio announcer or the star of a radio program appeared in a magazine or the newspaper we were excited to see what he or she looked like. We might even clip out the picture to keep and look at while we were listening.
One summer Papa decided to prime more of the burley tobacco leaves than normal from each stalk and string them on baling wire over tobacco sticks for faster curing. I used a long extension cord and brought the radio to the shade of a big maple tree in the backyard. There I sat for hours stringing tobacco leaves and listening to the radio. That was the only time that I became hooked on daytime soap operas.
Static was a common problem when weather conditions were erratic, sometimes to the point of our having to turn off the radio in the middle of a good program. Reception was often poor for no apparent reason, the sound coming and going in waves. If we laid our hand on the back of the radio and put our ear close to the front, we could understand most of what was being said.
Oh, the golden age of radio.