Hidden Corners of History
The Glow of the Philco
By: Jarrod E. Stephens
In our fast-paced and digitized world where we are inundated with screen images and text from devices it’s hard to imagine a time whenever neither existed. Before the television and the worldwide web, the radio played an important role in entertaining and informing people across the world. In one of my favorite novels, A Year Down Yonder, the author Richard Peck relayed the main character’s draw to the radio as she stayed with her very interesting Grandma Dowdel. The young character told of how she would sit in the “glow of the Philco” to listen to music that was a window to the outside world.
Such a slower-paced life where time spent with family around the radio may not sound appealing to everyone, but people seemed to be more content by not being overwhelmed with information. As they listened to the radio, the images of the singers, stories or even news events would be painted inside their minds which is why I feel that our older generation seems to have such vivid memories of yesteryear.
Most have heard about the great Orson Wells and his radio drama of The War of the Worlds and how that due to his great stage act many folks panicked because they thought it was real. Radio dramas and musicals had a way of connecting people in the most rural setting to the rest of the world.
Several Christmases ago I gave my Grandma Claxon an empty notebook and asked her to jot down some memories. Several months later she told me she wanted to give the notebook back and boy was I surprised to find nearly thirty pages of hand-written memories that gave me a glimpse into her life. The following is an excerpt that tells of how the radio influenced her life.
“Daddy bought our first radio when I was maybe 9 years old. Of course, it was battery powered because we didn’t have electricity then. On Saturday night we would listen to the Grand Ole Opry from WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. Usually there were neighbors who would come and listen with us. We would be so quiet so we wouldn’t miss the names of the singers.”
Grandma continued to tell about her favorite singers. “My favorite of all the performers was Roy Acuff but of course there were lots of others I liked such as Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, the Osborne Brothers, and Kitty Wells to name a few.”
She mentioned that she was able to visit the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in 1956 and see some of the stars in person. The statement that follows sums up the power of radio. “I enjoyed seeing some of them in person, but I don’t think I enjoyed it any more than listening to them on the radio and wondering what they looked like.”
Just a few weeks ago I went to an auction and came home with some items that I intended to buy and some that I bought because I could. Amongst my stash were two antique radios. One was a Firestone that was manufactured by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and the other was a Motorola. Both were manufacture in the early 1940’s and after replacing their dry rotted cords, they worked perfectly. The grainy sounding static of the AM radio was so cool. I was amazed at their glow and the fact that they were still functional. I began to wonder just what kind of joy and maybe even heartache had been broadcasted through those tiny speakers.
The past few weeks have been really good for me as I have done a lot of reflecting about what is important in this life. I can assure you that neither the television nor internet made the cut on my list of blessings. While each have their purpose in our digital world, both have effectively stolen quality family time and robbed our kids of their imagination. We would all be better off if we could return to the days when the family gathered around and enjoyed the evenings by the light of the Philco.