Before cell phones and the Internet, radio brought people together. A broadcaster made a community feel as one. People had their favorite DJ and he (most often it was a he) provided music, information, commentary, and contests for listeners.
I had the radio on as I was on my way to deliver some furniture, when something caught my eye.
A garage sale sign. It was pink so I couldn’t miss it. (Note to self: Next time you have a garage sale, make the signs pink)
I stopped and looked around. Didn’t see anything of interest and was about to leave when the owner of the home and purveyor of used goods asked if I was looking for anything in particular.
“Old radios,” I said.
Now, I had already amassed a collection that reached museum-level size, so I donated it to a museum. Seriously.
So why not start over?
He looked around and said he had a radio somewhere in his garage that he used to listen to while working. He wasn’t sure if it still worked or not.
When he found it and brought it out, the answer was not. We plugged it in, turned the dials, and nothing.
He had that, “This is going in the trash look,” on his face so I told him that if he was going to toss it, I’d take it for parts.
I learned a long time ago that even if I didn’t know how to get a radio working, salvaging even the antenna made sense. There’ll be another radio down the road that works but the antenna is broken off. Or the dial doesn’t turn, or the speaker needs replacing.
Oftentimes, a radio that’s been mothballed or forgotten was put there because something simply stopped working.
That’s especially true of old portable radios. And that was the case with the one at the yard sale.
After offering to make use of his old shop radio, he handed it to me. I offered to pay him something, but he said to take it.
He said he had other radios he might sell and asked if I had a card. When he read my name out loud, his wife spoke up. She and I are connected on Facebook, but had never met. Until now.
After a brief conversation, he said he’d be in touch about the other radios and I went on my way.
On the way back to my truck, I examined the radio, which was black and covered in dust. The handle was broken on one end and the nameplate was off of the unit.
If that was all that was wrong with this radio, I suspected that I might be able to get this one working.
After the furniture delivery, I headed home, made some tea, and began the radio restoration efforts.
I first determined that the unit was a Panasonic and had been made somewhere around 1974.
The music that first came out of it came to mind. If the original owner had been a rock fan, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, BTO, and other bands of the day would’ve played from the speaker.
Country music of the time would have been Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and Tom T. Hall. They were among the artists who had hits then.
I began to do a deep clean on the radio. That’s the first thing to tackle, even before trying to get a radio to work. A clean radio is motivating. It makes you want to get the job done.
This Panasonic had many fake holes on the front to make it look as if the entire cover was a speaker. The actual speaker was about four inches across.
A thorough cleaning led to gluing the handle back on, then reattaching the nameplate.
It looked good.
I retrieved electrical contact cleaner and some WD-40 from my shop. After lubricating the dial and volume knobs, I cleaned the electrical cord and battery compartment.
Four fresh AA batteries, and I turned the unit on. It vehemently objected to being reawakened.
After repeatedly turning the volume knob and then the tuning dial, the radio came back to life.
And boy did it work. Really well.
When FM began taking listeners from the AM dial, people had to have incentive to want to buy a new radio. So the ones made in the early and mid 70s had to be good.
This one was one of those. It picked up better than most high-dollar stereo units. One station after another came in as I went up and down the dial.
I felt good. People had been bringing me radios for years when they’d given up on one. I’d saved another one from the trash heap.
Darkness fell and I searched for an oldies show. A friend of mine does a syndicated weekend country gold show, and it was on.
I listened as Earl Thomas Conley, Charlie Rich, and others sang their hits.
My hits. Our hits. Songs that had brought us all together then, and are still bringing us together now.
I was listening to a friend on a radio. A radio that came from another friend.
If you have a mothballed radio, dig it out. Radio’s still got it.
©2023 John Moore
John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.