by Bob Stealey
It was about 40 years ago that you couldn't go a city block without seeing a young person holding a transistor radio up to his ear, listening to the hit tunes of the day. 'Guess I should know, because I was one of 'em.
Sometimes we'd use one of the "old-time" earphones that resembled a hearing aid with a long cord attached. Other times we were content to simply plaster the speaker part of the transistor up to our ears without fooling with the earphone.
The transistor radios back in the early '60s were relatively expensive for that day and age, but they gradually came down in price as time passed. They carried only AM stations, but we were content because, at the time, there were no FM stations in the immediate area.
We liked transistor radios because when you turned 'em on, the sound began right away instead of waiting 30-40 seconds for the tubes to warm up.
They also got bigger, but just a little. Sometime around 1964 or 1965, the AM band changed to AM┌FM, and we were glad, although we still couldn't pick up the FM stations. A year or two later, many people had AM┌FM in their cars.
Some folks who didn't want to hear the radio bought eight-track tapes to listen to, but they became quite a target for thieves.
The next thing to come along was the combination AM┌FM radio and cassette tape player┌recorder. These often came with a plastic handle that made it easy for you to carry. You could pop in a cassette, push "record" while the radio was on, and the recorder would pick up music directly from the radio with no extraneous background noise. They came with a built-in microphone for your own recording purposes rather than the kind attached to a long cord, like the earphones.
Of course, it followed that most cars and trucks came equipped with the cassette tape decks, and -- joy of joys! -- you could listen in full stereo -- whether to the radio stations in stereo or the cassettes. Because the cassettes were smaller in size than the eight-track cartridges, they were a lot more desirable for collectors. They stacked up easily and didn't take up a lot of space.
With both my wife and myself, we wouldn't be without a cassette tape deck in any new car we'd select to drive for the next couple of years.
Enter the 1980s and the compact disc, more commonly known as "CDs." (This confused me at first when someone would mention he planned to buy a CD. I thought he meant a certificate of deposit from the bank.) They were around 41┌2 inches round, but they were flat. Many vehicles were sold with both cassette players and CD players. I liked this, because I own quite a number of cassettes and CDs both, and it offered a nice choice.
Around the same time period, the once-small transistor radios you'd carry with you had evolved into the large "boom-boxes" that essentially offered you a portable entertainment center. Oh, the smaller sizes of transistor radios have continued to be sold through the years, just perhaps not as many.
Not to be outdone, the manufacturers of portable players next went with CD playing capabilities -- all in living stereo.
Alas, in the early 21st century, many carmakers phased out cassette decks and offered only CD players. Possibly they're getting ready for widespread introduction of DVDs for use in vehicles and in portable carry-cases. What's next?