Radio Music Magic – Paul Sasges

Image by Nacho Carretero Molero, via Unsplash

Turn it up, turn it up, little bit higher, radio
Turn it up, that’s enough, so you know it’s got soul.
‘Caravan’, Van Morrison, 1970

The transistor radio came out between the vacuum tube in the fifties and the Walkman in the seventies. I spent many hours on our braided area rug prone upon my belly, knees bent, and feet cocked in the air listening to that vacuum tube radio. My father, who loved the big band and crooners, gave me an appreciation of the music of that era. That was nice, but I wanted more. I liked the pop music of the sixties, and for that, I needed a little transistor radio of my own; my dad did not fancy letting me listen to that kind of music on his radio. When I turned twelve, I finally had the means to buy one. At that age, I got my first paper route and first wages. Not that I was any good as a paper carrier.

On a lovely sunny Saturday, I was the paperboy who would sit on the curb and read the paper front to back before I delivered it to you. On rainy days you got your paper waterlogged. We were supposed to collect the subscription at the end of the month, but I never managed to collect the route’s full subscription. I drove my older brother, our paper shack supervisor, and the area manager mad. His surname was Boutillier, but we called him “Bootsy.” Instead, I paid the paper company a portion and squirrelled the rest of the money away for what I wanted. I knew exactly what I wanted: that little transistor radio and a ten-speed bike. I got the transistor radio right away; the expensive ten-speed would have to wait.

I saw the exact one I wanted in the electronics section of the downtown Eaton’s department store. My mother worked for Eaton’s and got a twenty-five percent discount. Though my father had railed against her going back to work, he loved that discount. He was a bit of a swell, my father was. Every Friday, he liked to gather and take us downtown to Eaton’s under the pretext of giving my mother rest. It could be a new suit, a new dress shirt, or a fancy tie that he would buy. The shopping always ended with him buying a large bag of chocolate bridge mix. On Friday, before the bridge mix, I got him to take me to the electronics section. I told him that I wanted to buy a transistor radio and had my own money. He did not seem to mind; it wasn’t his money. He acceded to my wish and dragged all of us over to the electronics. I myself was more than appreciative of mom’s twenty-five percent discount because it placed the price of the radio firmly within the cash that I had collected and squirrelled away. It was funny that my dad never bothered to find out where I got my money. This was something that came back to bite him later in my paper carrier career, especially after being in arrears on money collected over half of the year.

I cannot remember the make and model of that transistor radio. It was enough to fit in a young boy’s hand, about three inches wide, one inch in depth, and six inches in height. With neat white stitching, it was encased in genuine black leather with a small strap. The leather was perforated over the radio’s speaker. If you held the radio up to your face, you could smell the animal oil used in its tanning. At the top, there was a little window with a green line differentiating the channel frequencies. You used a small yellow wheel on the right side to tune the station you wanted to listen to. I loved music, and to me, it was a box as magic as any drum, guitar, or horn instrument. I got the clerk to take it out of the glass case and bought it as quickly as possible before my dad changed his mind.

It needed two AA batteries to power it, and I found those in my dad’s tool shop when we got home. I grabbed a handful of bridge mix and brought it to my basement bedroom. I thought of my room more of a monk’s cell than a bedroom, precisely why I wanted the radio. It needed livening up. My brothers all had a little cell at that age, which my dad quickly built as our family grew to ten souls.

I had helped with mine, and he let me decide its interior decorations. I chose to leave its walls unadorned by paint. Instead, I applied many polyurethane coats to highlight the plywood’s natural patterns.  At one end was a dark closet with a clothes bar and shelves. I found it to be spooky. I did the room’s trim in fluorescent orange. A built-in desk looked out over the backyard, and a small chest of drawers was painted fluorescent orange at the other end. This left room for a tiny single bed, with a bookshelf hung above it. I tuned in to a pop station and placed my radio on it. I threw myself down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, with one leg crossed over one knee and the other foot dancing to the beat. 1967: what a year for hits. To this day, they travel around with me inside my brain.

There was: ‘Daydream Believer’, and ‘I’m a Believer’ by The Monkees, whose antics entertained us so on our portable black and white TV; ‘To Sir With Love’ by Lulu, and ‘Georgy Girl’ by The Seekers, soundtracks from movies, the archbishop forbade Catholics to see because of their wanton sexuality; ‘Ruby Tuesday,’ by the Stones, a song that to this day  I cannot help but sing along to; Herman’s Hermits sang, ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’; at Christmas that year we got the perennial Christmas classic, ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’; Jefferson Airplane gave us the incredible psychedelic ‘White Rabbit.’ I don’t even mention the Beatles’ hits; there were simply too many. The music was an exciting roller coaster of enjoyment. It was like, as Grace Slick bawled, “One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you smaller….”

My father woke us every morning at seven. ‘Up and Adam,’ he would shout as he walked through the house. That was my dad’s sense of humour in a nutshell. ‘Up and Adam’ instead of ‘up and at them.’ Inevitably, he could not raise me. Listening and reading well past midnight made me too tired in the morning. I would leave the music on all night with the battery burning down.  Late one night, he came down and heard me listening. That is why you are so sleepy in the morning; he accused me. He bellowed to turn my radio off and not listen to it past bedtime. If I did, he warned me, he would take it away. When he left, I turned the volume down and tucked it under my pillow. Holding it in my hands beneath the pillow, I laid my ear on it and went to sleep. I put myself to sleep that way at night, and it also consoled me through many emotional hardships.

Getting older, I became designated as the house painter. I painted cedar siding, shingled walls, gables, and steps. I tarred the tin workshop’s roof. I cannot say I liked it. I imagined dad wanted to train me for a trade because of my lousy academic standing. In a moment of chastisement, my mom told me how disappointed he was in me. I am sure he thought he was preparing me for life. But he should have exposed me to literature, poetry, and art. Him being a tradesman and my mom a clerk, there was precious little exposure to those pursuits. Still, there was my little transistor radio, rocking the airwaves with ‘Crimson and Clover’ by Tommy and the Shondells, or ‘Doo Wah Ditty’ by Manfred Mann, keeping me sane through those mundane chores. Somehow, I managed to always have it close at hand, either pinned to my belt or hanging off the ladder, losing myself in the magic that my little transistor radio gave me.


Paul Sasges has seen a large swathe of life and loves to write about those subjects in innovative and imaginative ways. He has retired from his previous careers as an ocean-going navigator and building energy conservationist. At the moment, besides creative writing, he is finishing an undergraduate degree in First Nations and Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia. He is a Métis British Columbia Nation member, one of three constitutionally recognized aboriginal people in Canada.

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