Radio: Tuning in changes ordinariness to completeness

Radio: Tuning in changes ordinariness to completeness
What stories can be told by the things a person keeps on her desk? On mine: books and more books, a pennywhistle, a passport holder and a passport renewal application, a box of oil pastels, four pairs of reading glasses of varying magnifications, several journals, oversized knitting needles, three framed childhood photos of me at ages 2, 5 and 7, my sewing machine and a bolt of Park Avenue knit springtime print fabric. Oh, and my radio…

It was April 1961 when my family moved from central Pennsylvania four hours northwest to Lakewood, N.Y. Lakewood is a couple hours outside of Buffalo, not far from Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. I was 9.

Sundays were for church and reading newspapers: the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Press, and the Buffalo Evening News.

Black-and-white television was a fixture – one per household. Color versions had debuted but were affordable only by the elite. Mainstream media were newspapers and radio. Transistor radios were becoming the norm, like iPods are today.

My transistor was pink with dials, not buttons: one for power, the other for tuning. Extending the retractable heavy chrome antenna was an exercise in freedom. Stretching it as high as it could go made my world much bigger.

By day, I could pick up WABC AM-770 in New York City, KDKA AM-1020 in Pittsburgh, WBZ AM-1030 in Boston, and CKLW AM-800 in Detroit. Reception was clearer at night – when vivid signals came in from as far away as Charlotte, Chicago and Chattanooga.

I loved that pink transistor – the way it transported me and gave speech to my otherwise quiet childhood. I remember lying awake late into the night listening to the completely smooth voices of disc jockeys; their narratives became like serenades and sonnets.

My radio was a stand-in, substituting for absentees, filling in silence and drowning out discontent. Tuning in changed ordinariness to completeness.

Among other things on my desk is a vintage nylon mesh Easter bonnet. It's slightly faded with a bluish-green stain on the bow. Next to it is a porcelain tea cup resting on its side. The inside is hand-painted bright yellow with a gaudy fuchsia magnolia.

What stories could be told by what's on your desk?

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail

� 2007 Paula Damon

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