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Saturday, July 20, 2013

#Radio Days in the Tabula Rasa by John von Daler

                You remember it, the little brown box with brassy ornamentation, the vanilla-colored buttons, the black knobs, the lighted glass panel showing great cities of the world all in green: Singapore, Tallinn, Johannesburg. You know, the radio.

                I've always mistrusted the visual even as much as I loved it. Seeing was never believing. I never really accepted cartoons, movies, or paintings. Even as a child looking at pictures, I had the feelings of a husband cuckolded: she's beautiful, but she's not telling the truth!
                The radio you could believe. Words and sounds were honest. You knew where you had them. (You can cheat with sounds, too. Years later I fabricated for a play in Copenhagen an imitation of the sound of a crackling fire by recording broken glass sliding around in a metal pot. But let us stick to my age of innocence for now.)
                For example, Saturday mornings in Oklahoma. I wiled away the time from seven (where my parents were still asleep) to eight (where official pacts had ensured me the right to turn my radio on - quietly) by thumbing through The Book of Knowledge, one volume each month for twenty months, back to A and through yet another time. Pictures, pictures, pictures. But at eight o'clock I was allowed to turn on "Let's Pretend" where I got lost in all kinds of fantasy worlds and then "Big Jon and Sparky" that always started with The Teddy-Bears' Picnic and then went through a myriad of adventures with a doll that I never saw, except through my mind's eye.
                At ten years of age I heard baseball from New York as retold by a local radio journalist reading out loud from a ticker tape sent from New York. He backed up his colorful commentary with taped cheering, applause and the occasional boo. I could see Mickey Mantle when his Achilles tendon snapped on the way down first base line. No wonder the number seven still is my favorite to this day.
                At twelve I received a little plastic gadget from my uncle, the disc jockey. You could clip it onto any window screen, put the plastic knob in your ear and hear any nearby radio station. I lay awake at night listening - as announced in a heavy Oklahoma drawl - to Johnny-Lee Wills and His Westarn Swing Boyz from the Cimarronnn Ballroom in Telsey, Oklahoma. Take it away, Johnny!! I was there!
                We moved to Connecticut when I was fourteen. On Saturday afternoons we heard the Metropolitan Opera matinĂ©e and built fantastic machines out of my Erector Set. Since then, I've heard ten times as many operas as I've seen, and I still don't quite know where to look when I actually attend one.                  
                 Later I drove around in our little Renault listening to pop music on the radio, dreaming of bobby-soxed cheerleaders and cheek-to-cheek dancing. I even became a disc-jockey on a high school radio program called Hi Teens! That is, until I played Thelonius Monk on the air one Saturday and got fired.
                Even later it was WJZZ where the jazz they aired had been especially chosen by Dave Brubeck. And he didn't get fired.
                Now - to hop over quite a few years in this chronology - I seldom hear the radio here in Copenhagen. It's all TV or CDs or DvDs. But I still miss just that enticing, unillustrated sound, my brain taking off into its own universe to paint its own pictures on the good, old Tabula Rasa. Sight unseen.

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