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Swift reflects on radio in early days

By Jack Swift

Radio had not been around long and television was several years in the future when I was a child. I remember my family buying a second hand table-model Philco radio when I was about the age of 8 or 9. It was a time of great excitement when my dad brought home that radio and hooked it up to the two large batteries that powered the radio since we didn’t have electricity at the time. As I’ve mentioned several times in this column, few folks had radio sets in the early days of broadcasting. Fewer had electricity. When electricity became a reality for us, I later bought a more powerful floor-model, but the Philco unit stayed with us and I have it now. It was set up to use two batteries. We later had it altered to use only one battery.
The batteries it used were about a foot long and about five inches wide and five inches high. With an antenna (a wire stretched between two posts) the radio would pick up a great many distant stations. Stations such as WSM Nashville Tennessee; WOWO Fort Wayne Indiana; WHO New York; WCKY Cincinnati Ohio; WGN Chicago; KDKA Pittsburg Pennsylvania; WMOX Knoxville Tennessee; WBT Charlotte, North Carolina; KMOX St. Louis; and several more. Local stations included WJHL Johnson City; WOPI Bristol; WBEJ Elizabethton; and more.
Those who had radios were often visited by neighbors who hadn’t yet purchased one but wanted to hear the news and find out what was going on in the world. There were a number of stations that featured programs that appealed to the youngsters: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, the Green Hornet, Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong to name a few. Of course there were soap operas, situation comedies, and news programs. Some of them made the transition to television and some became quite popular on the small screen. Comedians such as Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, and others held forth in the living rooms of many folks in the early days of radio. Many people adjusted their radio dial to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. It was broadcast from Nashville on WSM’s clear channel station. I don’t know when FM (Frequency Modulation) was first introduced but I know that most radios were AM (Amplitude Modulation) and were known to have a lot of static due to the weather. When FM came on the scene, static was reduced on the radios that were able to broadcast in FM.