By Joe Rector
Recently, I rode in a van with fellow workers back from a trip to deliver cars to Nashville. At some point, I started listening to my iPod to help pass the time. It’s surprising just how much listening to music has changed in my lifetime.
My first memories of music came through a little white radio that sat on a corner shelf in the kitchen. Each morning we boys would dress and then arrive at the table to eat cream of wheat or cinnamon toast. All the while, WIVK AM played in the background. I remember Claude Tomlinson as he and his so-called sidekick Lester played music, gave news headlines, and announced birthdays.
One Christmas, my older brother tore open a present and found a transistor radio inside. He walked around listening to WKGN with that one earbud, and he rarely shared any of the music that played. I wanted one of those small radios, even though hearing anything depended upon what station might have the strongest signal. On occasion, I’d see Dal holding the transistor over his head or turning slowly to pick up the signal.
When we were not more than 9 or 10, our parents bought a cabinet stereo for the family. It was a gigantic piece of furniture with orange material covering the speakers. The turn table and radio were hidden under a hinged door. Each payday, Daddy would take us to purchase ONE 45 record. We added “The Wings of a Snow White Dove,” “Burning Ring of Fire,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” to our collection. Other albums were added, and we boys would play them as we cleaned house on Saturday. I’d lip-sync songs from The Diamonds, Jerry Lewis, and Allan Sherman. As we grew older, LP’s by the Four Tops and Temptations were added.
During my senior year in high school, Mother bought us a Studebaker Lark to drive to college the next year. Our first order of business was wiring speakers and an eight-track player into the dash. We’d cruise along in a rather “lame” car and blare music by Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. For heavier music, we cranked up Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida.” Unfortunately, the player outlived the car, which threw a rod on Monterey Mountain during one trip home.
I had a component system in college. The sound from the set up was superior to anything I’d had before. My collection of records grew, and I played them the first three years and filled my time that sure wasn’t going toward dating anyone. Even after Amy and I were married, the system sat in special places in our apartments and houses.
Before long, we added a cassette player. It was a fantastic machine that dwarfed the cartridges played by the eight-track. Too, copies of music could be made on blank tapes. Yes, I was party to the first music piracy without knowing it. It was the only way folks with modest incomes could enjoy a variety of music. I’d carry a case of cassettes in the car anytime I traveled. A player had to be installed in the Datsun 310 that I drove.
More recently, iPods became popular. I purchased one with 4gigs of memory, and before long, the thing was filled. I’d download music from a song library on the computer. Over the years I’ve had three iPods, none of which have data plans. Still, listening to my choices of music is enjoyable on them. Lots of folks add their music to iPhones, but mine is so old that it can’t hold much. I also struggle when I try to sync it to a Bluetooth device. I’m just not savvy enough to do it right, so I hand the iPod to the younger generations, my children or my six-year-old grandson, and they fix it for me.
Even on the computer I can listen to hard-to-find songs by clicking on things like Pandora or iHeart Radio. It’s ingenious how someone figured out how to play music in that way. I can set up my own stations and listen to only music that suits my taste.
Devices have changed over time. They are smaller, offer better quality sound, and hold literally thousands of songs. Still, I’m not so sure that music sounds any better now than it did when I was younger. Something magical comes with a turntable and record albums. My taste in songs is still stuck in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m convinced that older is better when it comes to how music is played.