Looking Back

Radios and record players

In my last column I reminisced about the various dances that were popular in my youth. That trip down Memory Lane made me think of the various ways we listened to music over the years.

When I was a youngster back in the 1950s there was a large floor-model radio in the hallway of our home. It looked like a piece of wooden furniture. Apparently it no longer worked, as it had been placed in an area where there was no electric outlet. It was most likely a part of either my mother’s or father’s younger days. At some point in time my mother got tired of seeing that useless radio taking up space. She wanted to put a nice hutch in that spot, where she could store things.

I went to college in Burlington and dated someone up there who was fascinated by old radios. He probably knew it was worth some money, because he offered to come down from Burlington to get it. He borrowed a truck, gave me a ride home, and after exchanging pleasantries with my mother, off he went with the radio. Come to think of it, he disappeared from my life along with the radio! I never found out if our “discard” proved to be financially rewarding once he got it up and running.

The first memory I have of choosing the music I wanted to listen to was on Christmas morning when I was about six years old. I got a small record player and some yellow vinyl records. You had to put them on the player one at a time. You lifted the arm of the player, which had a needle at the end, and placed it on the outer rim of the record. The music began! Like most children, I loved to hear the same record over and over. By Christmas night my parents must have heard “Old McDonald Had a Farm” about 100 times.

As I grew older I had a record player that held 78, 33 1/3 and 45 size records. The 78 size was 10” and held only about three minutes of music per side. The records were made of a shellac compound which broke quite easily.

The 33 1/3 size was known as an LP–long playing record. They were 12” in size and made of vinyl. They held about an hour’s worth of music.

The 45s had a larger hole in the center than the other records. The record material was also vinyl and held about 5 minutes of music per side. This type of record allowed you to listen to the popular songs you wanted to hear instead of an entire album.

You could stack the records and a new one would drop down as the previous record ended. As I recall there was a spindle adapter that came with the record player to accommodate the different size holes in the center of the record.

I stored my records in a slotted rack. They took up a lot of space compared to today’s CDs. It was so much fun to go to stores like Wilson Music on Center Street and select a new record. There was also a store on Terrill Street that sold records at a discount price. I remember my friend and I thought you went there to make a record.

When we were around 12 years old we asked for an appointment to do just that. Our “plan” was to sing like Patience and Prudence, a popular sister duo in the 1950s. Considering that I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it, we certainly aimed high! Fortunately for everyone concerned we learned that records were sold, not made, on Terrill Street.

Portable radios came out in the 50s and all of my friends loved the option of taking music outdoors with us. The size of my first portable was fairly large. I remember taking it to Lake Dunmore and listening to music as I lay stretched out on a blanket.

LP record album covers often had a use for which they were not intended. They became sun reflectors when covered with aluminum foil. We used to lie on the beach with them under our chins. That was such a bad idea!

Music has always played an important part in the life of a teenager. Back then the radio was like a lifeline for finding out the top ten songs each week. When you had enough money to buy a record, you wanted to choose a popular one.

I remember saying that I would always know what songs are popular. I knew I was truly an adult when I no longer had a clue. At this stage of my life, it’s all about “the oldies but goodies” for me!

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