Thursday, July 21, 2011

When radio was an art form

Computer chips are boring square blocks with a porcupine fetish.

Transistors are little blocks of plastic, metal and minerals.

Vacuum tubes are Dale Chihuly masterpieces of glass and wonder. The older they are, the more spectacular, these little jars of fire and light that bring the world wondrous sounds.

I WAS THINKING about that after our little video demonstration Wednesday of my 1928 Radiola 18 console. Really, that radio is so old, it was made when RCA was an American company.

A big American company at the forefront of an exciting modern world of sound . . . and eventually sight.

Magic waves flying through the ether.

An entire world flooding your parlor at the flick of a switch.

It was the birth of the first "golden age" of mass entertainment. The birth of the "network." The birth of a truly mass culture.

THIS OLD Radiola represents an age of technology that looked a lot more like art. It represents an age, too, where life was more Chihuly and less commodity.

I WAS born into the last echoes of that age -- the age of wooden cabinets and shiny metal trim and tail fins. The age of RCA and Zenith and Philco and Silvertone. The age of flying by the seat of your pants and artistic statements.

The age where radios meant a warm, orange glow in a darkened room, a certain "ethereal" aroma and friendly voices from far away on a summer's night.

I was born into the age of vacuum tubes. And I miss it so.

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