This handsome, polished wood-cabinet radio was a member of our family when I was growing up. It stood in one corner of the living room, dignified and proper, waiting its chance to be the center of attention. Silently surveying the family goings-on, it was like an elegant queen ruling over the shabbier second-hand furniture lined up along the other three walls.
Not only was the radio wonderful to look at, but it was wonderful in the way it enriched our lives. The majestic radio offered us a virtual trip to other lands to see and experience things we’d never heard of before. It was 1950-1955, and there were no televisions, video players, smart phones, or even phonographs in our house to offer competition.
The magic offered by the radio inspired our imagination, curiosity, and love of music as we heard newscasts about New York City or Paris, stories about African safaris or dangerous sea voyages, and learned to sing Mockingbird Hill. I heard, “When I say coffee, I mean Folgers,” so many times I thought there was just one type of coffee in existence–Folgers. Yes, Edward R. Murrow taught me to always want to consider the “other side of the story.”
Most days at 4:15 p.m. my twin brother and I would settle ourselves in, side by side, to listen to the children’s show, Twinkle Time, on the radio. A half-hour of children’s stories and songs kept us glued to two low stools where we perched close to the radio to listen, clap, and sing along.
Other favorite shows my brothers and I often took in were: Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and Inner Sanctum. The beckoning call of the Lone Ranger‘s theme song was a reminder to gather around the radio for another action-packed story of cowboy escapades. I remember being shocked when I first encountered the William Tell Overture by Rossini in my piano lesson books–it was what I had known as the Lone Ranger theme song.
The radio brought us close together in that small living room, to sit in one another’s company, to be spellbound by suspense, charmed by a song we learned to sing, or entertained by a great story or drama. Every Christmas Mom would gather all of us kids to listen to Loretta Young read aloud the beautiful Littlest Angel. The beauty, tenderness, and compassion Loretta brought to life through her voice was enough, every year, to bring me to tears.
By the time I was in sixth grade, however, Dad’s drinking began to take over the living room. He sat in his worn-out blue recliner chair, that no longer could recline, in the living room right across from the radio. There he would deliver frequent drunken rants, thrown out into the space around him. Anyone hoping to listen to the radio was out of luck if Dad was home and had been drinking. The radio was not that portable, so it remained in the corner, silenced. And the shame of Dad’s alcoholism, as we tried to keep it secret, silenced all the rest of the family as well.
This grand old radio, after years of being stored in the basement or barn, was rescued by my eldest brother quite recently. No longer functioning, she still has an elegance about her. I still can see her standing in our tiny living room, next to the floor furnace, ready to transport us to another world if we cared to stop and listen.
Ah, if she could speak, what stories she’d have to tell.