Radio days.

Wax on: This radio has a turntable for recording broadcasts.

Wax on: This radio has a turntable for recording broadcasts.

Once upon a time, the FM band was not where we now find it, but between 42 and 50 MHz. That was before the end of World War II. In 1945, the Federal Communications Commission moved the band to 88-108 MHz to accommodate the television spectrum.

I learned these facts during a family visit to the Radio and Television Museum, a little gem in a reconstructed farmhouse in Bowie, Maryland, about an hour from where we live.

Instead of wandering the two floors, we took the guided tour and were amazed at how much history the little house contains – from the earliest wireless sets that played only Morse code, to cabinet-sized black-and-white TVs like the kind we had when I was a kid.

But something struck me about that switch in the FM dial. Something that happens with such regularity now, but must have come out of the blue for radio owners. Obsolescence. FM was not the powerful medium it became in the 1970s. Still, there were 15,000 FM receivers in use in 1941, Brian Belanger, the museum’s executive director, writes in “The Rise of FM Broadcasting.” And those owners had paid for an expensive product – the equivalent of thousands of today’s dollars.

As America entered the war FM was on the rise — 50,000 FM sets were sold in January 1942, according to Belanger. Then production was halted. By the time FM radios were being built again, the FM band was not where it once was, and those radio owners, those early adopters – unlike today’s TV owners who have a box to unscramble the new digital broadcasts – were out of luck.

What change in technology was the biggest adjustment for you?  What has gotten lost in the rapid technological shifts?



Filed under communications, FM radio, popular culture

8 responses to “Radio days.

  1. My entire collection of 8-track tapes. Pfffft.

    They had their upside and their downside. On a positive note, they were nearly indestructible and could easily be loaded — i.e., shoved into the slot — by anyone, regardless of his or her degree of . . . um . . . impairment. The downside was the loud click as they changed tracks. Depending on your degree of impairment, that click could make you jump out of your skin before you realized it wasn’t somebody opening the door.

  2. I was never privileged to own 8-tracks, but I know how crucial the impairment issue was. Last week, though, I pulled out a functioning Walkman and listened to one of the dozens of cassettes I still have.

  3. Oh my goodness. The same here. Going from LPs to 4-tracks to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads. That’s six — count ’em, six — different audio format iterations from 1966 to the present day that have caused enormous anguish. And I’m not even counting audiophiles who were errant enough to invest in Wollensak reel-to-reel machines before that.

    Thank goodness I didn’t invest in Betamaxes when VHS videos wiped ’em out, which in turn were wiped out by DVDs. Over a much shorter continuum, I feel more sorry for people who bought HD-DVDs before Toshiba threw in the towel, allowing Blu-Ray to take over, rendering HD-DVD players irrelevant. However, I myself believe that DVDs of all stripes are no more than a transitional format, to be replaced by — what else? — digital storage on flash drives and streaming video. Great post, David!

    • Thanks David. You covered the whole sad parade. I skipped many of these steps, either because I was a (very) late arriver or too cheap. It’s hard to know which approach is best. And what will replace digital and streaming video?

  4. Jennie

    I miss penmanship. I miss pretty stationary, hand written thank you notes. Same as I refuse to use a digital wristwatch. Some things shouldn’t be messed with. I am sure that the quality of my handwriting and my writing speed have decreased since the computer became a daily tool. I haven’t received a hand written letter in YEARS.
    The way the mind views an analog watch includes the concept of the hour and the day as a circle to be completed, over and over. This is totally missing in digital.
    It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature! ( Apologies to Dena Dietrich and Chiffon Margarine.
    PS I enjoy reading your writing immensely!
    Jennie in Israel

  5. conradcook

    Hey, you know something? This is an odd case where my semi-paranoid overanalysis (you realize they’re tracking you with your Scan Saver card?) paid off.

    When they came out, I was deeply skeptical of CDs. I liked tapes; I could make my own. And when CD-ROMs became available, my back-of-the-napkin math told me that you could fit way, way more music on a CD than 10 songs.

    “But if that were true, why would they sell them with only 10 songs on them?” people asked me. The fools.

    So I easily had less than 40 CDs when Napster made MP3s big. Although now that I think of it, I can’t say that not getting sucked into the CD trend actually did me any good.


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