When I was about 7 years old, our family got its first television. It was an Admiral brand TV in a large blond wooden cabinet. Color television hadn’t been invented, but we marveled at our three channels in black and white! But what did we do before our TV arrived in 1956? We listened to the radio! Long before Gun Smoke became a long-running television show, it was a radio drama. Every Sunday night my dad and I would lie down on the living room floor and listen to Gun Smoke on the radio. All of the places and people were in your imagination, but it was wonderful. I didn’t know it, but I was experiencing the last decade of radio drama.
When I was a teenager, my dad got me a short wave radio for Christmas. It was called a Knight Space Spanner. There was a catch; the radio was a kit and had to be assembled! The old man sat down in the basement for weeks, soldering resistors, capacitors, and other parts to the circuit board using his “page by page instructions” that were as thick as a telephone book. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he finished the radio. We spent hours listening to scratchy static, once in a while picking up the BBC in London or other stations; mostly in languages we could not understand. Unfortunately, the reception wasn’t good and it didn’t take long to grow weary of the short wave radio.
While the short wave was a bust, I did develop an affinity for radios. Due to the fact that AM radio “skips” after dark, it is possible to pick up far away stations on a decent set. Even though we were in Omaha, I could easily pick up WLS in Chicago, WWL in New Orleans, and WABC in New York. It was fun to listen to people in far away cities, but I haven’t listened to radio seriously since I was a kid.
All of that changed on Christmas day, 2008. My son bought me a “Wi-Fi” radio. Now that we’re in the internet age, most radio stations broadcast their signals on the web. A “Wi-Fi” has the appearance of an ordinary radio, except that it searches internet connections instead of radio frequency over the air. Because you are listening to an internet signal there is no fading or static; it is as if you’re in the city where the station is located. When you listen to a radio station on your computer, you are getting the same signal as you get with a WI-FI radio.
There are over 5,000 stations on my WI-FI radio, from over 100 countries and many genres. You can listen to a rock station in Jerusalem, the morning rush hour traffic update from Tianjian, a Bollywood music FM station from Bombay, or City FM in Moscow. You can get another side of the Israeli – Palestine conflict from Al Jazeera English, or listen to BBC in London – 24 hours a day, as clear as if you were in the studio.
WI-FI radio is technology going full circle. What was once a pleasurable experience as a boy has now become even easier and more fascinating due to advances in human knowledge. Oops, sorry! I’ve got to go. It’s time for the evening news from Sydney!