Friday, May 10, 2024

Insight: 9 volts of pure magic

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

On my 10th birthday in December 1963, my parents gave me a gift that became an invaluable part of my life for the next few years. It was a Panasonic AM transistor radio, and it gave me an opportunity to experience music as I never had before.

By inserting the earplug, I could tune in late at night in bed without disturbing my younger brother and it just happened to be the era of the “British Invasion” of bands from England and of Motown, featuring soulful singers and performers whose songs endear to this very day.

My radio station of choice was WBBF in Rochester, New York because it played popular music of the day and rock n’ roll oldies, although many of the records that WBBF disc jockeys aired in those days were from 1956 and later. Some of the oldies’ records that were played on the radio were ones my older sister owned on vinyl before she had graduated from high school including “Venus” by Frankie Avalon, “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson and “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price.

But many of the new songs I first listened to on my new transistor radio were ones that came around after my sister had moved into her own apartment. Some of those tunes included “Sherry” by the Four Seasons, “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler, “If I Had A Hammer” by Trini Lopez, “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto, “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary.

The little 9-volt battery used to power my radio was only 29 cents in 1964 and would last for four or five months of daily use. Besides listening to music, I could tune in for the latest news and weather reports, or Rochester Red Wings baseball games. My transistor radio became part of my day-to-day world, along with the sports section and the comics page of the daily newspaper, baseball cards, 12-cent comic books and my Huffy Roadmaster bike.

Early in 1964, the radio airwaves were dominated by The Beatles, and the first one of their songs I can recall listening to was “I Want to Hold Your Hand” followed in succession by “She Loves You” and “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” then “Love Me Do,” and “I Saw Her Standing There” and “P.S. I Love You.”

Soon British bands and singers were everywhere on WBBF with The Dave Clark Five (“Glad All Over” and “Bits and Pieces”), The Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”)” The Zombies (“She’s Not There”), Gerry and the Pacemakers (“Ferry Cross the Mersey” and "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"), Dusty Springfield (“Wishin’ and Hopin’”) and The Hollies (“Just One Look”) frequently played.

One evening in 1964, a song from a girls’ singing group called The Supremes was played and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was called “Where Did Our Love Go” and I quickly became a big fan of theirs. Their first radio hit was followed by “Baby Love,” then “Come See About Me,” and my personal favorite, “Stop in the Name of Love” which at the time I thought was simply the greatest song ever recorded.

As I started seventh grade in the fall of 1965, I was still listening to my transistor radio, although its leather cover had been chewed on by one of our family’s dogs. By then the Rolling Stones had released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and I was also listening to The McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”), Herman’s Hermits (“Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I am”), and The Temptations (“My Girl”).

My father and I had watched a program on television in February 1965 that included a performance of the top song in America that week called “This Diamond Ring” by the son of comedian Jerry Lewis. The band was called Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and I would turn the volume up each time one of their other songs was on the radio. Those included “Count Me In,” and “Save Your Heart For Me,” “Everybody Loves a Clown,” and “She’s Just My Style.”

As I was finishing up junior high school in June 1967, I first heard on my transistor radio what has since become one of my all-time favorite songs “Love Is All Around” by The Troggs. It’s probably the last song I can recall hearing on that radio.

The very last thing I do remember listening to on that radio was Game One of the 1969 World Series. I was on the sidelines of our high school’s football game in October and my friend Mike Wilson, who was playing in the game, had asked me during a timeout what the final score in the game was. It was Baltimore 4, New York Mets 1. He bet me that the Orioles wouldn’t win another game in the series, and I took the bet. The Mets swept the next four games and I lost $5 to him.

I don’t know what happened to the transistor radio after that but my memories from it remain strong more than six decades later.

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