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This article first appeared in the April 9, 2008 edition of The Somerville News.
Elvis had just gotten out of the Army. Chubby Checker was making “The Twist” famous and my family had just moved into our new house near Davis Square. The year was 1960 and a stamp cost 4 cents. A McDonald’s cheeseburger set you back 15 cents and you could buy a brand new Chevy for $2,529.
It was around then that music came into my life in the form of a small plastic radio. I can’t remember exactly when I got my first transistor radio, but I can still recall its scent. There was nothing like the smell of that new plastic when you opened that little box. The earphone came in a separate, small clear envelope or with elastic wrapped around it. You only needed one earphone because it was mono, baby!
That magical transistor radio went everywhere with me, but it spent most of its time in my bed, under my pillow. What would my childhood have been without my transistor radio? That little radio was where I first heard Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg on WMEX. I also recall listening to Dick Summer, who did a show called “The Loving Touch.” Songs like Goodbye Cruel World by James Darren still bring me back to a time long ago when my transistor radio was a huge part of my life.
With gas costing a whopping 31 cents a gallon, how much could that small radio have cost? Well to me and my sister our transistor radios were absolutely priceless. My friend Al, who lived on Cherry Street, said his mother gave him the money to buy one at a variety store that was on Highland Ave. Al says his father was upset because it cost so much money. Al paid two dollars for his transistor radio. We also discussed the painful practice of testing a 9-volt battery by touching the terminals to your tongue. I still do it today (there has got to be another way).
Most of my transistor radios probably came from Woolworths or Grants in Davis Square, or Savel’s five and dime in Ball Square. I know you could get one at the Smoke Shop, but it was no doubt more expensive there. If you wanted to mix the smell of the new plastic radio with the stink of burnt plastic, you could buy one at The Bargain Center. I can’t remember when Radio Shack came to Davis Square.
By around 1962, I was taking that radio everyplace I went, much like my kids depend on their iPods and cell phones. Some more songs I remember were Big Girls Don’t Cry, Palisades Park, Let Me In (wee ooh!!) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Whenever I hear the great harmonies of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka, it brings me back to that time in my mind.
My friends and I used to tape our transistor radios onto the handlebars of our bikes and cruise in style. As long as you de-waxed the earphone every so often, you could listen to your heart’s content. Today, I listen to WJIB – AM740. There are no annoying commercials and no whiny, outdated, over the hill “DJs” who have outstayed their welcome. On WJIB, I can often catch one of those songs that I remember hearing back when my little radio was a trusted companion. I also have downloaded many of them onto my iPod.
The stations I remember listening to back then were WMEX and WCOP and later, WRKO. I had the pleasure of working with Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg during my early years at Kiss 108. That was a gas! I will never forget my dad yelling upstairs, “Time to shut off the radio and hit the sack.” And I did turn off the radio, as soon as Allan Sherman finished singing, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp).