Tuesday, May 1, 2012


   In the summer of 1965,  everyone had AM transistor radios.  You could listen to the tinny sound pumping through that tiny paper speaker or stick the mono ear plug into your ear for discreet listening.  The Rolling Stones had just released Satisfaction and that driving fuzz guitar sound was on every pop station and pounding into America's youthful heads.  The only thing on FM radio was classical music from USC.  Mom and dad's console stereos were the state of the art.  I bought a turntable with tiny speakers that I took to The Citadel in 1968 and I remember playing my  "Dylan's greatest hits" album as loud as she would go.  An upperclassman from Thailand bought a receiver "kit" and assembled it himself.  I bought it from him when he graduated.  My first component of a real stereo.  It looked cool...blue lights...lots of power.  I bought a funky little turntable with a ceramic cartridge and "book shelf" speakers.  I was in business.  I soon discovered the beautiful sound of a magnetic cartridge and procured a Garrard SL 95B turntable and, finally, floor speakers by Magnavox. Ahhhhh. Beautiful music.

   Obviously, I was hooked and I am still buying newer and bigger and better stereo components.  The search for the perfect sound always involved buying bigger speakers...until Bose, who made a fortune on their Bose 901 floor speakers, invented the "satellite speaker system".  Whoa.  Overnight America's thinking changed.  Wives across the nation were bugging their husbands to get rid of those ugly monstrous speakers and buy the new ones that you could not see.

  Men had been bringing home component stereos by Marantz and Sansui and Pioneer from Viet Nam for years.  We later paid big money for magnificent works of art...JBL, Phase Linear, Klipsch, Acoustic Research, Paradigm, Bang & Olufsen, Altec Lansing, KEF...on and on.  There was always that one guy's house where the ladies remarked that they just could not tell where the music was coming from because the speakers were hidden behind a book  somewhere.  So what.  I did not like it.  Somewhere, we had gone wrong.  There was a conspiracy afoot.  Sony released the Walkman, then the Discman and gave us earphones in stereo.  Very impressive.  

   When the MP3 was invented, the real move to "smaller" began.  Thousands of songs could fit on this tiny device.  Bam!  The downsizing was fast.  All the  kids had white earphones stuffed into their ears while they walked around the mall.  I noticed that younger folks did not care about building a sound system.  The sound that came from computer speakers...smaller than the old book shelf speakers...was fine with them.  Most of the time, they were listening to earphones anyway.  No one owned a cool, expensive set of headphones either.  These little ones were fine.  

   So now, 47 years after sitting on the beach with a tiny AM transistor radio and an earphone, we have come full circle.  America's youth sits on the beach with tiny Apple IPod Nanos hooked to their t- shirts and tiny white earphones in their ears.  

   I loved going into a stereo shop and hearing truly stupendous stereos.  Those stores, for the most part, have gone the way of  record stores.   Another defunct experience.  How about those Rolling Stones though?  Keith has outlived Michael Jackson, Keith Moon, Hendrix, Morrison, Lennon and Kurt Cobain.  But that is another discussion entirely.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I looked at the clock and I was 61

   Today is my first blog.  Friends have been urged me to do this, so we will see how it goes.   I was only 17 when I checked into The Citadel that hot August day in 1968.  The drinking age was 18.  Cell phones and home computers had not yet been invented.  The barracks and classrooms were not air conditioned.  I made and received phone calls from a pay phone in the guard room on first division.  If I wanted privacy to talk to my girlfriend, I had to procure a pocket full of quarters and walk across the parade ground to the post office to use a telephone booth.  Everything had to be just right to accomplish all that.  Long distance was expensive too.  When we lived in Michigan, we would drive from South Carolina to East Lansing after a vacation..14 hours, as I recall..and, to let my parents know we had made it home safely, I would make a person to person phone call to my parents'  house and ask for Bobby.  They would say that Bobby was not there to accept the call and my folks would know I was home safe, without having to pay $3.95 for the first minute.  I saw video telephones on movies and that seemed so futuristic..unobtainable.  To see someone while you talked...fantastic..what a concept.
   As driving teenagers, we had the wildest cars available to us.  Huge, insanely powerful V8 engines with double and triple barrel carburetors and hood scoops to allow the maximum amount of gas and air to be rammed into those engines.  There were no seat belts; no disc brakes; no air bags; no traction control; no radio controls on the steering wheel..just a push button AM radio;  no radial tires;  no AC;  no car seats for infants..they just sat on mom's lap or crawled around in the spacious back seat.  It is a miracle we survived.
   We had one black and white TV in the den.  Remote control did not exist.  I sat if front of that TV when we we landed on the moon and I recorded it all on a portable reel to reel tape player.  We got TV Guide, that small weekly magazine that told us what was coning on, usually live, on TV.  Once, we got a fold out color picture in our TV Guide of several people standing there in brightly colored clothes, but the picture was just the bottom half.  At a specified time, we tuned to the correct station and, live on TV, were those same folks standing there.  We taped our color picture to the TV screen and the top half was the black and white TV, but the bottom half was now color.  We sat back and admired our first introduction to color TV.  Cool.  Then they started building houses with intercoms.  No more yelling up the stairs to call the kids to supper..just pull a lever and talk to them in a normal voice.  Ultra modern.  Also very hip were console stereos.  A huge wooden piece of furniture.  Open the top and there was a turntable plus room in there to store all your records.  There was always a fat spindle so you could stack up your 45's.  The sound was great from those beasts. No amps, preamps, tuners, receivers, bookshelf speakers or woofers.  It was all contained in one lovely cabinet.
   The drinking age was 18.  If you were leaving a bar...say, the Twilite Lounge on Blossom Street, there was a table by the door with "to go" cups stacked up and a trash can where you could toss your beer can and take the rest of your beer with you.  Very handy.  If you were stopped by the police, you could sit there with that cup in your hand and the cop would tell you that you had probably had enough to drink and you should just drive straight home before you killed yourself.  Or, at least, stop for a cup of coffee to sober up.  That was some good advice.
   So, now, after 61 years, I live in a house with no intercom and have two very fast cars in the garage..one with a V8 hemi...that has not changed.  But there are color TV's and sound systems everywhere..I video chat on my IPhone or MacBook Pro and talk free to anyone in the USA and I have Sirius XM radio and a CD player in my car.  Technology advances so quickly, it is difficult keeping up with it.  I keep thinking I have seen it all, then the next day, I see something new.  I will try to stay tuned in, while sitting here on this porch by the creek in sunny Florida.