Unlike the digital world today, as I turned the dial I would pass through static and crackling with the faint sounds of music or a strange voice in the distance.
When I was seven years old and growing up in Brooklyn, my parents gave me a small, red transistor radio for my birthday. It was 1969. The radio played AM stations and I thought it was the best present in the world. In 69' this was cutting edge technology and before FM and stereos were commonplace in households. My new radio was the size of a small trinket box. It had a little, square window on the front identifying 8 available channels. A plastic wheel on the right side let me scroll through the stations.
At first, I just listened to all of the music stations and the sounds of the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, and my favorite at that time, Otis Redding. Without really understanding it, every time I heard, "Sittin' On The Dock of The Bay", I had this peaceful image of being on the edge of a pier watching ships coming from and going to far off exotic places around the world. It was comforting. Still, my childish imagination fantasized about the unknown destinations as the music crackled through the small speaker.
When I wasn't listening to a song, I'd pause to hear everyone talk about the moon landing on every other channel. Sometimes I would simply listen to the roar of Shea Stadium and root for the "Amazing Mets", while listening to Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson give the play-by-play all the way to the World Series that summer. Other times, as I turned the knob in search of discovering new music I would quickly pass over the local news as it seemed to put me to sleep. The thought that anyone would want to listen to a station that advertised itself as, "All news, all the time", seemed like a colossal bore to me. I continued searching across the spectrum.
Unlike the digital world today, as I turned the dial I would pass through static and crackling with the faint sounds of music or a strange voice in the distance. This intrigued me. Up late at night and under the covers with a flashlight in hand, I would search for these strange stations. I moved the wheel at a snail's pace, back and forth, in hope of finding just the right space in between all of the static and noise where I could hear something. On rare occasions, I was rewarded when I picked up stations that must have been taped abroad. Whatever their starting point, they certainly weren't WCBS or 1010 WINS News.
As I listened to foreign correspondents reporting the news of the world, the accents both confused and delighted me. But the most amazing part of my discovery and why the radio changed my life is that, for the first time, I heard directly from foreign locations and was able to listen to the sounds of places I had only learned about in my small parochial school in Brooklyn. Neither of my parents had ever traveled out of the US and we never went on a family vacation - unless it was an afternoon at Coney Island. These places, only previously mentioned in books to me, suddenly became real and relevant. I wanted to learn more about and see England, the Eiffel Tower, the Alps, the Sphinx, Israel, and the Great Wall. Those places seemed far away and larger than life, or at least bigger than my small, house on Reeve Place. Listening to those stations changed and inspired me to dream beyond my world of stickball, backyard barbecues, and a future limited to steady work and good benefits.
Since the red radio ignited the desire to see the world, it changed my focus and outlook on life. I have been fortunate enough to travel across the world numerous times and forty-one years later I still have the radio. Once in a while I take it out and wonder if I can get it to work properly. I always check the double A batteries and turn the dial slowly. My fiancé looks at me and wonders why I don't throw it out since all she can hear is the crackling sound of static. But I can still hear the world.
Mike Gannon; Edited by Elisa Hyman