How a radio changed my life

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How a radio changed my life

Where I now live people talk about life-changing experiences.  A life changed by tragedy. A life changed by a spiritual awakening.  A life changed by an experience.

I have had some life changing experiences too.  One of the most significant ones was not caused by a European holiday or a meditation class, it was caused by a radio.  A radio changed my life.

The house that I grew up in was built in the 1920s. Bungalow in style with two bedrooms downstairs, and an extra two add-ons created in the attic. Perfect for a small family, crowded for the 7 of us who called it home.

Grade school life was spare for me.   I slept on the the back porch, played in my school uniform, and had few possessions.  I was left with my imagination to come up with adventures and experiences.  And that is how I found myself in the basement.

Dark and dank. Forever musty.  A receptacle for junk, and other discards that were “too good” to toss, but served no real purpose.  A perfect place for a young explorer.

It was in the basement that I found her.  Dusty and checkered, but magnificent.  Constructed of wood, and in a style showing her advanced age.  It was in the basement that I found my radio.  

When I spied her I was spellbound.  My first thought was, “Does she work?”  I did a quick examination.  Close up she was pretty beat up.  I wasn’t sure how we got her, but she looked like she had not been turned on for decades  She had an odd musty smell about her, certainly acquired by her subterranean residence.

I looked inside and was mesmerized by her huge vacuum tubes. Large as lightbulbs, but oddly shaped, some sporting a metallic connector on their crowns.  I took a chance and plugged her in.  The tubes glowed a soft orange/amber, and static sprang from the speaker.  She worked!  Well sort of.  

Many of her controls were inoperable or frozen, and all that she could give me was her static sound.  But she still had some life in her.

Taking some of my dad’s tools I started to disassemble and diagnose her. Using my child’s mind and my non-existent budget, I plotted a course of action.  The variable tuning capacitor was clogged with dust. I could clean it. There was some sort of knob that use pressure to connect to the chassis, its rubbery sleeve had long since disintegrated. I could probably fashion a new makeshift sleeve out of a rubber cork.  The cording for the tuning mechanism had also dissolved. Dental floss might work, if I could figure out how to rethread it.

The list went on… and on went my project.  Trial and error, more error than trial.  Step by step.  For my young mind, plenty of frustration and a few victories. Did it take me days?  Did it take me weeks?  I just remember that it took a long time.

Finally, it was time.  I reassembled the chassis into  the cabinet.  I plug her in and turned her on.  Her tubes glowed, she sprang to life.  I turned the dials and WLS boomed in!  But she deserved more than this. She survived for 30 years; she deserved more. A new grill cover using a placemat from the 5 and 10, varnish found in the basement… perfect!

My radio taught me that I could solve problems if I allowed myself to make mistakes.  She taught me that problems that seem impossible could be possible, if you approach them a little bit at a time.  She taught me that reasonable risks can yield reasonable results.  She taught me that time and thinking are bedfellows when it comes to solutions.

Today my goal is to remember that persistence and plodding are just as important as raw intelligence.


Dear reader, my old radio actually taught me something much more valuable and life changing than how to fix her.  For that, you will need to stay tuned for part two of this little missive.

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