Last week I was picking up some vintage test gear for my continued studies on electrical systems, and almost as an afterthought the nice gentleman selling me the test gear asked if I would like an old radio that belonged to his father.
At first blush it didn’t look like much, but I recognized that it must be some sort of 1-tube receiver similar to the first crystal radio I built when I was 6 years old or so. And after a little research I soon discovered it was a Westinghouse Aeriola Senior receiver from 1923, which I believe marked the beginning of the home entertainment systems. What does that have to do with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana? Well, read on and find out.
But first, a little radio history. Prior to radios in houses, which allowed for instantaneous communication with the masses, newspapers were how most people got their news.
And because paper, the printing process and distribution was so expensive and cumbersome, there’s wasn’t a lot of call for increasing the entertainment value of the daily newspaper. We only wanted the NEWS most of the time. Which is probably why comic strips were generally relegated to the Sunday edition.
But when home radios became practical, that all changed. Now you could hear instant updates from your local radio station, days ahead of any newspaper story. And little sets like this Aeriola Senior were powered by a pair of 1.5 volt and 22.5 batteries, allowing them to be used in homes without electricity. Realize that in the 1920s few homes were electrified, especially those out in the farming communities. So it was worth a lot of money to get the news.
Just how much money? Well, in 1922, this little radio receiver sold for $65 with the rather fragile WD-11 vacuum tube. The IRS reports that the average family income in 1921 was $3,269.40, which works out to around $10 per day. That means this little $65 radio cost over a week’s salary at the time. Yikes!
And a little more math calculates this radio as costing around $1,000 in 2020 dollars. So this was the $1,000 home entertainment system of the day.
But once this big price tag was met, people demanded more than just the news. They wanted to be entertained. So many radio programs were created in the ’30s and and ’40s. Jack Benny, Gun Smoke, Little Orphan Annie, and many others ruled the airwaves at the time.
By the 1940s some 80% all American households owned a radio set. The die was cast, and home entertainment became an important part of home life, with many families in the ’30s and ’40s clustered around their home radio to listen to their favorite weekly episode of “The Phantom” or whatever. It became the Internet of the times.
Nowadays we are continuously bombarded with 24/7 news as well as all forms of entertainment programming, which can wear you down. I mean, there’s a constant stream of YouTube videos being sent to me at all hours of the day and night, along with a plethora of advertisements that support them. I’m beginning to feel like Neo in the Matrix, where he never gets any rest because he’s alternating between different virtual realities.
And you don’t have to be glued to your radio or television in your living room anymore, because your entertainment system is now in your pocket. Yes, smartphones have largely replaced the huge television and radio consoles of the day, and TikTok-style videos seem to have replaced the produced content over the last 100 years.
So is this a good thing? I’m not so sure. Just like the Nirvana Song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” demanded “Here we are now, entertain us” – many people can’t seem to function without a smartphone in their face or binge-watching their favorite television series 24 hours straight.
Admittedly, I often spend 8 or more hours a day on my computer just writing and editing the 3 or 4 articles and videos I publish for the RV and Pro-Sound markets every week. But I’m not sure this amount of mental overload is good for any of us.
It may be that this desire to get away from the constant deluge of news, entertainment and commercials is one of the driving forces that makes the public want to “get away” and camp in the wilderness. There’s something to be said for watching the sunset undisturbed by text messages and reruns of the Three Stooges. I’m now beginning to unplug myself from electronic media for at least a few hours every afternoon, and maybe you should too.
I find that my most mentally productive times used to be when I was driving a thousand miles to teach a seminar somewhere around the country. For me, at least, windshield time with the radio off allows my brain to cool off, and my emotional level to chill out. That’s what I miss most about all the RV shows and rallies going away for now. We can only hope and pray that 2021 will be better for all of us, and we can once again meet non-virtually, without Zoom getting in the way.
So, in the meantime, please take care of yourselves, and unplug from electronic media for at least a few hours every day. Your brain will thank you.
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
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Excellent read. I remember my grandmother listening to her AM radio when I was a kid. She had the volume so low you could barely hear it. One day, as I watched her sit in her chair, all bent over to hear, I asked her why, she told me, “The louder it is, the more electricity it uses.”
I built dozens of crystal radios when I was young. Better, more reliable radios were easy to come by, but what’s the fun of listening to a scratchy, crackling, baseball game at night if you haven’t wound your own coil and strung out 140 feet of antenna wire?
And now we carry all the knowledge of western civilization in our pockets.
Interesting read and I agree.