Radio Surprise

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Ninety years ago the new-fangled radio was found in few homes. The following account of an individual’s first encounter with a radio was written by a man named Fred Meeker and appeared in the September 1927 issue of The American Thresherman magazine.

“Probably many readers now own radio receiving sets; but there are probably many more who are looking forward to the time when they too will own one of these wonders.

“Several years ago I was invited to a friend’s home one evening, ‘To listen to the radio.’ It was some ten miles distant and the weather was cold, but we bundled the five children up well, climbed into the flivver and went to hear the voices and music out of the air. The first thing to attract my attention, when entering the house, was the loud speaker. Although I was offered a more comfortable chair across the room, I chose a straight-back one by the loud speaker, for I did not want to miss anything. I was very nervous and could hardly wait for the thing to be set going. My host remarked, ‘Oh, there’s nothing on the air right now; it will be fifteen minutes yet.’

“Would those fifteen minutes never pass? It seemed more like fifteen hours, but at last he announced, ‘KDKA is now on and we’ll try them.” I moved my chair right in front of the horn so I could see every move he made and hear all that might be said.

“My friend first pulled a switch which lighted some bulbs similar to electric light bulbs, and then slowly began to turn a knob. Suddenly, ‘Whee! O-o-o-o-w! whiz! bang!’ I nearly fell off my chair! I had expected to hear music or someone’s voice, but not such a screeching, whistling, howling racket as that. The ‘o-o-o-w, r-r-r-r-r-r, o-o-w-e-e’ kept up and the longer it went the louder it got. Was this radio? If so, it certainly wasn’t enjoyable, let alone entertaining. At last, after a half-hour of noise without one word or musical note from the blooming thing, my host, who was sweating like a butcher, said he’d have to give it up for a while. ‘That’s radio,’ said he; ‘just as soon as someone comes it always acts up, but when we are here alone it’s fine.’

“Finally he said, ‘Well, we’ll try Detroit, they’ll be on in five minutes and I know I can get them.’ Detroit is one hundred miles from here. In five minutes he put the set in operation again and with one little ‘wheek,’ a voice boomed right in my ear, ‘This is the Detroit News, station WWJ.’ I nearly toppled from my chair again. For, after a half-hour of ear-splitting racket, to hear a voice as realistic as if right in the horn was some surprise.

“It seemed only a short time when I looked at my watch and saw to my utter surprise that it was ten o’clock, and we had ten miles to drive through the cold. But it was worth it! I had heard a radio! On the way home my wife remarked, ‘Well, it was wonderful after he got it tamed, but it sure was some squealer in the wild state.’”

Mr. Meeker tells how, after this initial encounter, he “had the fever and accordingly bought all the books and read all the magazines which had any articles bearing on the subject of radio.” He also experimented with many radio sets then on the market and built several himself, becoming quite an expert on radio.

He explains many of the technical aspects of the technology then current and concludes with, “If you are thinking of getting a radio and want the best to be had at any price without paying out of reason, then either build or buy a two-stage tuned neutralized radio frequency stage set; and for some time to come you will have a satisfaction in radio which is second to none.”

– Sam Moore

A farm family gathered around the radio to hear the latest news. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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