How Radio Changed My Life, Part II

Another radio from my collection.
Another radio from my collection.

How Radio Changed My Life, Part II.

Dear Reader, in part one of this missive I told you a little bit about myself and the discovery of my 1930’s radio.  You may be drawn to the conclusion that the discovery of my wooden friend was the nidus for my moving into science.  That only would  be partially true.  I was already making the transition from right brain to left brain, as I was attempting to understand myself and how I fit into the world. In those days I believed that science was the key to everything.  The most basic building block of everything, I thought that if I understood science, I could understand everything.  I was wrong, but that will need to be explained in a different post.

With that said, my radio did push me forward in that arena;  Over time I moved from fixing radios, to building radios, to eventually obtaining an Advanced Class Amateur Radio License.

Dear Reader, something else happened to me that was more important than understanding the significance of capacitance, or the reflective properties of the ionosphere.  That life changing event happened when I moved the radio upstairs, attached a length of bell wire to its antenna terminal, and turned it on.

But first, I must digress and confess to you that I was an odd duck growing up in my Chicago blue collar neighborhood.  I was big and strong looking, visually perfect for sports.  Physically, I was weak and clumsy.  I lacked a mentor to teach and improve me, and so I avoided sports at all costs.  In addition, I seemed to like things that my peers could care less about.  My favorite television show was Mr. Wizard, where Don Herbert did science experiments using household items. I was different. I had difficulty with the awareness that I was different.  I had difficulty accepting myself.  

Let me get back to my main plot line…

Please remember that times were different in the 1960s.  Television consisted of a handful of channels, people made long distance phone calls to herald holidays or deaths, and the most comprehensive information source for a young boy like myself was a 20 year old copy of a discarded encyclopedia.

There was no Internet, smartphones, or YouTube. The household calculator didn’t even exist.  It is with that backdrop that you should appreciate the gravity of the discovery of my radio.

In the 1960s most radios had become disposable fodder.  Poorly crafted devices that yielded tinny sound and lackluster performance.  Designed to receive local signals, and not much more. Their engineering based on price point, rather than on innovation.  After all, radio was supposedly dead, television was the new kid on the block.

My radio was built in the 1930s, a time when radio was king.  Build to perform, built to last.

My radio had two bands, AM and shortwave.  FM radio had been invented by Edwin Armstrong in the 30’s, but it would be decades before it would become popular.

I started to play with my radio as I tried to understand what all of the dials did.  In that process I  I strayed slightly away from WLS, Chicago’s Top 40 station, and picked up another signal that was weak and undulating That station was WWL.  I was listening to a local station from New Orleans, and I was in Chicago!  

So started a nightly vigil of acquisition and discovery.  Dozens of signals explored.  Most from the US, some from Canada, and even a few from Mexico.  The 1960s was a time  before mass syndication and robo-stations. Plugging into signals all around North America allowed me to plug into local music and local culture. From my old radio I was able to not only visit these places, but I was also able to connect with the local people, some who were very different from the people that I was growing up with.

Then there was that mysterious shortwave band, and its discovery led to fundamental changes in the way I thought about the world, and the way I thought about myself.  For those of you who have never heard of this slice of the radio spectrum, allow me to offer this brief tutorial:

The shortwave spectrum lies just above the AM radio band (also called the medium wave band) and just below the FM radio band (also call the VHF band).  Radio signals in this part of the spectrum have a unique characteristic in which that can use the earth’s ionosphere like a mirror and bounce off it.  Because of this, these radio signals can travel around the world.  With the discovery of shortwave I now had access to the world.

This region of electromagnetic spectrum had all sorts of interesting stations.   Amateur radio stations, time signal and beacon stations, spy number stations, pirate radio stations (illegal radio) and my favorite, international broadcasting stations.

If a country wanted to have a seat at the international table it likely had a shortwave radio station, and many of those countries had full or partial services in English.  The BBC, Radio Moscow, Radio Warsaw, The Voice of Vietnam, Vatican Radio, The Voice of South Africa… and on and on.

From my bungalow in Chicago I could listen to cooking shows, quiz shows, story hours and much more, but my favorite shows were news shows and commentary shows.  Here I would hear the same news told on US stations, but with a different slant or perspective.  This may sound trivial in the new millennium, but it was earth shattering for a young mind in the 1960s. I started to understand that there was more than one way to think about things.  I started to understand that being different wasn’t a bad thing. I started to appreciate that someone could be different in one place, but completely mainstream in another place.  The world was full of different.  Different became exciting.  Different became OK.

Once I accepted myself, I found that I could move forward.  Once I accepted myself I could also accept others, even others who were different and out of the mainstream.  Radio allowed me to do these things.  Radio changed my life.

Less you think that I am some grandiose narcissist,  please allow me to say that there were plenty of kids in my blue collar neighborhood that advanced and grew.  There were plenty of kids who were more ambitious, smarter and even nerdier than me.  The problem was that I had no way of finding them.  I was unaware of clubs, there were no meetups, no Google searches and no YouTube channels where I could connect.

As I sit typing on my Macbook, other thoughts cross my mind.  My radio was a useless piece of wood and wires when it sat unused in the basement.  Yet, it served as a vehicle of profound transformation once it was given a chance.  It was there, waiting.  Waiting for me to find it.  

How many times do we have solutions to problems right in front of us, but we ignore them?  How often do we think that something new and shiny will change our lives, only to realize that what we already have is just what we need?  How often do we expect someone or something to fulfill us or solve our problems, when we should be accepting or changing ourselves?

We live in a disposable society of quick, but inadequate, fixes.  We all have our “basements” filled.  Some things need to be thrown out, but other things need to be fixed, cleaned up and listened to.  The answers to our personal happiness lies in ourselves, not in an external person or thing.  With that said, we can use those connections as tools to move ourselves forward.  A forward of acceptance.  A forward of growth.  A forward of change.  … move forward with me, find your radio.


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.


Medicine ball
Medicine ball

Groggy, sleepy, achy… I wake.

Dressing, eating, driving… I arrive

This was day three with the trainer.  Day three in gym class. “We are behind the wall.”  His voiced boomed out. We, meaning the trainer and me. Four Forty-Five in the morning and my day is already an hour long.

In front of me is a medicine ball. “Squat, lift, throw it to the ground… repeat!” Then backwards walking pulling a weight. Then lifting a kettle weight to my chest.  Then more.

My aches continue, but I am less sleepy.  My grogginess replaced by shortness of breath.  Again!  Repeat! And so it went for 45 minutes.

I do not like this, I hate it, but I do it.

I will return.

I will return because I promised someone that I would.  I will return because I know I will be stronger.

I hate it.

I am not good at this.  I am clumsy, I am weak. Towards the end every set I become wobbly.  My heart beats wildly. I am gasping…  

I will return.

My goal today is to celebrate that I showed up and did my best.  My goal today is to not dwell on how poor my best is.

I will return


Riding Solo

Destination, Herrick Lake
Destination, Herrick Lake


Quiet and serene
Quiet and serene


Flowers everywhere
Flowers everywhere

Sunday morning, early Sunday morning…  before church Sunday morning.  No one  available to ride with me.  I will ride alone.

I could have stayed at home, in front of my computer… scanning, writing, learning.  That is what I used to do, but not today.  Today is a day for adventure and discovery.  My plan, to ride somewhere where my bike has never been.  My plan is to ride to Herrick Lake. About a 14 mile round trip, not too bad.

Cool breeze, crisp air, sweet smell.  But riding is hard today, harder than it has been as of late, and I’m not sure why.  The wind? My new exercise routine?  I don’t know, but it is harder.

Being on a bike is different for me than driving a car.  In a car most of the work is automatic.  I can get into a zone and into my thoughts. Riding is  active;  it sometimes feels good, and at other times it makes my muscles burn and ache.

I prefer to ride with someone.  Someone to talk to, someone to share with, someone to be with.  But, today I will ride alone.

Bluetooth earbuds fastened to my ears, iPhone placed in a handlebar holder, I’m off!  Classical music, straight ahead jazz… the music keeps me company.

14 miles, but it seems longer.  Panting, pushing, standing and pedaling. I keep moving forward.  Along the way I greet people.   An old couple hand in hand, the many joggers, a teen texting… they nod hello, and the music fills my ears, and I feel happy.

I’m  ever fonder of my bike.  Ever grateful for what it gives me.  I want to give it a name, but I can’t think of the right one.  A bead of sweat runs off the tip of my nose, and the music keeps me company.

Just ahead… now there, the little lake shines like liquid silver.  It is surrounded by green grass and trees that are still deciding if they should change colors.  And the music keeps me company.

Today I will be grateful for my bike and my music. I will celebrate that I have the ability to adapt when the ideal is unavailable.

Hey, will you ride along with me?  Close your eyes and imagine that you are gliding on a path, cool air,  crisp air, sweet smell… close your eyes and listen to the music, and let it keep you company.


The Marching Band

Lower brass section of the marching band
Lower brass section of the marching band

Julie interrupted my phone call with sister Carol saying that we were late.  Before I could respond she was already out the door.  I hung up the phone, jumped into the car, and drove the 6 minute trip to the high school.

This was preview night, where we would see the marching band’s show performance.  The one that they would do for BOA in Indianapolis a week for now, or at least most of it.  Act three was still being worked out, and only days before the big show.

Our son Will had been going to long practices.  After school, weekends… hours and hours.  Going without fail.  Sometimes returning home tired and crabby, and at other times tired and slightly satisfied.  All that work.  All that time.  And for what?

Julie had started a meatloaf and it was in the oven.  The show plus the announcements had one hour to complete themselves, less we catch our house on fire.

The band tuned up.  The flags positioned their props on the ground … and then it started.

These events have themes.  This particular theme was based on a famous artist.   For some reason the joining of a painter and a marching band seems odd to me.  I honestly could not make the connection.  It was like randomly walking into an opera performed in a different language.  You know a story is happening, but you are not quite sure what it is.

What I did see was the dedication of these kids.  With instruments in hand they walked backwards, sideways, bowed and did other feats, all while playing.  The flags did their thing too.  Often interacting with the instrument players.

Months of long practices all boiling down to 7 short minutes on the field.  Step, play, bow, play… it was over in a blink.

During the announcement Will returned to the stands to sit with us, his new black performance uniform accented in neon green. He started practice at 10 AM and it was now 6 PM.  Tired, but still willing to share a small smile with us.

Next week the band will compete at Bands of America.  To me it doesn’t matter if they win or not.  Awards look great on band director’s desks, but that should not be the reason for extracurricular activities.

Will had to show up.  Will had to dedicate himself.  Will had to practice.  Will had to sacrifice. Will had to work with a team.  In the end he was able to do something that he couldn’t do in the beginning.

Today my goal is to realize that the act of learning can be just as important as the act of doing.  As they say, life’s a journey not a destination.


A very early morning ride

5:30 AM
5:30 AM

It is 5:30 on Saturday morning, and I have already been up for a while.  Dressed and ready to go, but still sleepy, as I have yet to have my morning coffee.

Silently, my friend’s car pulls up and places itself conveniently astride my driveway.  We have done this routine so many times that a text message is no longer necessary.  In moments I’m ready to go, and out the door.

Traveling to his office, only a few minutes away.  Backpack containing a computer rests at my side.  His computer in a logo’ed nylon briefcase, tossed in the back seat.  Today we will focus on some business strategies, and we will try to solve some practical problems.  It may sound like work, but it isn’t. It is enjoyable, honestly it is fun.

The enjoyment and fun are derived from working with someone who has a similar  goal, but a slightly different perspective. The process becomes a ping pong game, with ideas bouncing back and forth. For me learning something new is the extra bonus. My friend’s work is completely outside my discipline, and so everything is new for me.  I like the fact that there are entire bodies of knowledge that I have yet discovered.  Their practical use unimportant.  They stand alone on their information.

Work, conversation, food, break, work, and so it goes.  Each element painting something on the canvas of the morning.

My goal for today is to acknowledge the satisfaction that collaborating with others brings.  My goal today is to be grateful that I have people who I can collaborate with.

Rockford Thoughts

Early morning on I88
Early morning on I-88

I started the drive in 2009.  Back and forth, rain or shine, I always went. Ninety miles, an hour and twenty minutes, two tolls. Traveling, only to return back to where I started in my round trip.

I travel mostly silently, surrounded by my thoughts.  Thoughts not of grand scale, but small thoughts that entertain me.  Small thoughts that keep me company. They reside privately with me, rarely to be shared.

They drift and slide, here and there, as I look ahead at the road before me.

I drive 90 miles to Rockford, then 90 miles back to my home.  Net distanced traveled is zero. This simple calculation misses the point of my journey.

I think small thoughts that  can be circular.  On the surface their value is also zero. But to value them based on this metric misses the point of their existence.

My introverted mind uses my trip time… my quiet time, to grown and recharge. In a pressured life that measures time in quarter hour increments.  Well spent time.

Today my goal is to accept who I am and celebrate it.  To judge myself based on my own self, and not by comparison to others. To known what I need, and to freely give it.

Today I needed to drive to Rockford, and to drive back home… and to think.

On a dark and rainy morning

A rainy morning drive
A rainy morning drive

It’s getting darker outside.  Partly due to my 3:50 AM wake-up time, and partly due to the ever escalating advance of fall.  This morning it was also raining.

I gathered myself  and found myself in my car at 4:25 AM, driving in dampness.  A block into my journey I was halted by the flashing red lights and the whooshing sound of a freight train.  But I arrived.

The gym seems to be gathering a larger crowd these days.  Early attenders with purposeful looks on their faces.    They assemble themselves onto their machines, and start their morning journey.  A stationary one.

I suppose that I am now joining their ranks.  I stepped on my treadmill and programmed it for my jog.  The gym seems less difficult now, as the inevitable personal training has become more of a focus.  My muscle more sore today, sorer than yesterday.  My resolve unchanged.

So many times I want things to come easy.  Without effort or energy. I don’t want to deal with rainy days, freight trains and personal trainers.

I know that I learn by repetition.  I know that I change by consistency.  Tomorrow I will don exercise shirt and shorts and move one more millimeter closer to my goal.

Why to I do this to myself?


I am unsure why I do this to myself.  It is not like I don’t know better, but I do it.

I will think of a question, and then I need to come up with a solution. Hopefully, multiple solutions.

Case in point: I am just getting familiar using WordPress.  In fact I created this blog as an experiment to learn how to build one for a friend… and then I started to post on it.

That wasn’t enough, and I had to figure out how to relocate the blog so it could become  a website,  That wasn’t enough, and I had to figure out how to re-direct my other domain,, to point and mask to  Why?  I have no idea, but I spent the last few days thinking about it, and a frustrating few hours tonight making it happen.

I just can’t seem to stop myself.  I’m always solving problems and finding problems to be solved.  It is a strange affliction, and one that apparently has no cure. It is the process itself that drives me.  The process and possibly the second of euphoria that I experience when it all come together.

So now I have a blog that is redirected from several domains, it also automatically posts to several social media outlets; and I feel satisfied.  Solving problems must be my Mount Everest.  I solve them because they are there. Strange things amuse me.


A day of reckoning

Today was the day.  The anticipated day, The day of stress, the stress that I paid for.

Today was the day that I started with a personal trainer.  The morning started early.  Coffee using my new speedy coffee system, homemade low sugar muffin, then a 15 minute car ride.

My trainer is pleasant, but business like.  My ability is as expected.  I fatigue easily and the “next” set seems more difficult than the “prior” one.  After exhaustion using TRX bands and running “suicides” I’m told that I just completed about 1/2 of a normal exercise session.  Not even a hollow victory.

I’ll return to the gym tomorrow and run on the treadmill.  On Friday I’ll face more training.  Training that I don’t look forward to.  Training that reminds me of high school gym class and my inadequacies.

This journey started years ago with a dedicated effort to reduce my stress.  It continued a year ago with a dedicated effort to give up sugar.  It continues today.  A journey, part of a greater journey.  A journey with an unknown destination.

Despite my soreness, I also see the irony in my life.  As I try to “let go and let God” strange things happen, and I am pushed forward.  I don’t think that I would have started walking if it wasn’t for a friend.  I don’t think that I would have joined a gym, if it wasn’t for a friend.  I know that I never would have engaged a personal trainer, if it wasn’t for a friend.

My goal is to become strong so I can move my life in a different direction.  Hike national parks, explore, write, photograph and ponder.

As I was leaving the gym, already feeling sore, my friend said, “You are working towards having 5 more good years of  hiking in national parks.”  He was right.

Here is the irony.  My friend is not a very religious man and yet he is serving as an agent of change for me.  In reality, he is serving as an agent of God, and he doesn’t even know it.  For some reason this understanding makes me smile.

My morning continues, and my workday starts.  Life flows on.


A welcoming lobby
The machine
The machine

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.