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Al Batt: Whatever happened to that whatchamacallit?

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It begins with, “I can’t find the whatchamacallit.”

Years later, it ends with “Whatever happened to the whatchamacallit?”

The other day, I wondered whatever had happened to the GE transistor radio that was once my constant companion. It was an AM-only radio, but it worked in the p.m., too. It burned through 9-volt batteries at a hectic pace.

Before that radio appeared upon the scene, I listened to other things. Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s faithful sidekick, taught me to put my ear to the ground to tell how many horses were headed my way. We had only one horse, so that made for an easy feat. We had many cows, so I put my ear to the ground and attempted to determine the number of bovines, but gave up that activity when the ground I put my ear to turned out to be a fresh cow pie.

I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) long before I’d heard of FOMO. It seemed as if everyone but me had a transistor radio. I knew that wasn’t true, but I didn’t care because I was a young visionary who could see himself owning a transistor radio. I’d saved up to buy one, but I hadn’t saved much because I had expenses—baseball cards and an occasional Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll didn’t grow on trees. Lacking the patience of the neighbor boy who sat in his waiting pool and waited for rain, I became anxious enough that my mother covered my shortfall with her egg money and I became the proud owner of a GE transistor radio. I didn’t travel far from home, but thanks to that radio, books, newspapers and hand-me-down National Geographic magazines, I flew everywhere first class.

The radio was easy to operate. There had been no “subscribe” button, subscription fee or “Transistor Radios for Dummies” book needed. I was so pleased to have the portable radio I’d have held a parade had the County approved my application for a parade permit.

When I crawled into bed, that radio went with me. It had an earphone that ran from the radio to one of my ears and I got to pick which ear. I’d switch up my routine. Sometimes I’d listen with my left ear, other times I’d put the earpiece in my right ear. I could do that because I could sleep in any position in those days. Far from being uncomfortable, a plugged ear felt right. That radio and its voices from exotic places like Arkansas and Oklahoma, sports and music held me close, releasing me only to allow my sleep. Most nights, I fell asleep with wondrous words in my ear and imagination dancing in my mind. Before she went to bed, my mother plucked the earplug from my ear and turned the radio off. She was preserving her investment and saving on 9-volt batteries.

I seldom recoiled in horror over what I heard on that radio. There weren’t the angry voices that proliferate on many AM airwaves today. WCCO Radio was immensely popular as the Good Neighbor, friendly and nice, rarely critical. Most other stations followed that example.

I took my radio to school despite Johnny Cash’s warning in song form, “Don’t take your radio to town, son. Leave your radio at home, Al. Don’t take your radio to town.”

It was covert listening at its sneakiest. I’d wear a long-sleeved shirt, run the cord of the earpiece up one sleeve to my hand, place the earpiece into my ear, and tilt my head so that that ear rested in the palm of my hand. I typically got away with that while seated at my desk if I kept the sound low, but I didn’t always escape detection. One teacher asked me what the score was. Another made me sit by some girls to punish them for misbehaving. I had the radio confiscated several times, but they always returned it at the end of the day.

Maya Angelou wrote, “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” I’d add humbly, “And will not see it again.”

Life’s path is littered with stones. That transistor radio was a lovely, shiny pebble on my life’s road.

It’s copacetic that I don’t know where that transistor radio is. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

But I do wonder whatever happened to that baseball signed by Bombo Rivera and Harry Caray.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.

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