SpeakEasy

Down Melody Lane With Golden Oldie Devices

By S. FOX | Mar 20, 2019

I doubt there are many more sobering moments many of us must eventually come to terms with than the point at which we realize that we, as well as all of our beloved possessions, will at some unknown time end up in that great dust bin of human history. Perhaps similar thoughts went through Henry Ford’s mind when he realized his beloved Model T, which he stubbornly believed would endure forever sans changes, was slowly being upstaged by more innovative vehicles from competitive manufacturers. A song made popular by The Byrds in 1965 could not have made it any clearer: “Turn! Turn! Turn! To Everything There Is a Season.”

There was a time when most families sought enjoyment by gathering around and intently listening to radio broadcasts or recorded musical compositions from a record player. The radio my parents had was a small-refrigerator sized cabinet with a furniture-like finish and double doors. Inside were two knobs (on/off-volume and stations) and a small opening that displayed the AM station’s number, much like a bathroom scale. At the bottom was a cloth/fabric-covered area that concealed the speaker. A large lid on the top could be raised to reveal the 78-rpm record player. This was my introduction to household entertainment, providing endless hours of enjoyment.

During the mid-1950s everyone noticed a shift occurring in the music industry. My high school friends and classmates were no longer listening to the “crooners” of the ’40s. They were following rock ’n’ roll performers on radio, jukeboxes and coin-operated, table-top selectors found in many diners. And, more often than not, the most popular medium seemed to be 45-rpm records that everyone collected, swapped and enjoyed on portable record players. Not having sufficient funds, I watched, listened and enjoyed but could not participate in any purchases.

While attending college during the late 1950s, I enjoyed listening to my roommate’s large collection of 45-rpm records. A fellow freshman classmate owned a very impressive Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder/player, which got me thinking about a way I might finally be able to get in step with everyone else. And so, borrowing the Wollensak and my roommate’s 45-rpm record collection, I carefully recorded a large number of 45s onto what would be two reels of tape.

My future plans included purchasing a reel-to-reel recorder/player when my finances permitted, ultimately eliminating storing and handling piles of 45-rpm records and ensuring quality audio via the more expensive reel to reel equipment. I thought this plan, looking forward, was the best of all worlds. It was not to be.

During the mid-1960s, the 8-track cartridge and player were introduced and began to replace 45-rpm records as a popular choice for home use. By late 1968 even automobile manufacturers incorporated 8-track players in their products. As a consequence, I put my prized reel-to-reel tapes in storage and actually purchased several 8-track cartridges locally as well as through TV offers.

We even purchased a Panasonic AM/FM radio with an 8-track cartridge player and a top-mounted turntable and stereo speakers, hoping this would be a lasting solution. Nope! By the early 1980s 8-tracks were being phased out and by 1982 they were effectively nonexistent in stores. Our Panasonic radio/8-track player found a home in a local resale shop. Today, 8-track players and tapes are few and far between.

About the same time 8-track systems were being incorporated into automotive products (late 1960s) compact cassettes and compact cassette recorders/players of every imaginable size and description were rapidly becoming  another favorite medium of choice, re-re-re-recording and making available all of those wonderful songs we previously heard on radio, records and 8-track cartridges. Smaller in size, more convenient to carry and play, inexpensive to buy, this “new” cassette phenomenon seemed to solve every existing problem, and so it wasn’t surprising to learn of their growing acceptance and popularity.

Vehicle radios were manufactured to accommodate cassettes, portable hand-held cassette players became popular, and more complex radio/recorder/player combo units were available for home enjoyment. We purchased such a unit along with numerous cassettes, and we still own it today.

Entirely by accident, at this time I learned from a friend, who had more than a casual acquaintance with recording equipment, that he had the ability and equipment needed to transfer reel-to-reel recordings onto cassettes. Voila! The moment I had envisioned while attending college and had waited for had finally arrived. After decades of dormant storage, I had the feeling that my reel-to-reel tapes were finally going to serve a useful purpose. It took a few weeks, but in the end my friend provided me with the fruits of his record-transferring abilities, which I played and thoroughly enjoyed. End of the story? Fuggedaboutit!

It seems that regardless of the effort made to keep abreast of technology and in step with the rest of society, we continually fall behind. We own two vehicles, a 2014 and a 2016. Neither can accommodate a cassette, but each has a slot for a disc, which looks similar to a diminutive 78-rpm record. It is a flat, round disc, with minute grooves, and a small hole in the center for the “spindle.” Further complicating our situation is the fact that none of the cassette players in our home can accommodate a disc. In fact, the only component in our home that will accept a disc is an HP desktop computer, which I refuse to use for that purpose.

So, it’s logical to explore viable solutions: scrap everything and go 100 percent disc or revert back to using and enjoying what existed in the very beginning, before all of the craziness of wasted time, effort and expense began so many years ago – the radio.

Yogi Berra once reportedly said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” It’s 2019 and strangely similar to how it all started in the 1950s.

Thankfully, for us living “golden oldies,” as well as those who enjoy music of the ’50s to the ’70s, there are still a few radio stations that feature such recordings on an almost-continual basis for those of us who enjoy listening to the melodies that filled the airways during a time when things weren’t so divisive but much simpler, enduring, meaningful and patriotic. And, for special times, we still play those old cassettes on our still-functioning cassette player. Thanks, Yogi.

Rock on.

S. Fox lives in Little Egg Harbor.

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