Sunday, 11 May 2008

Transistor Days

Come to think of it, a tiny device called the Transistor freed us from the tyranny of plugged-in devices such as the vacuum-tube radio and made music portable. The transistor radio became a rage and a status symbol. The early versions came encased in leather and people used to take them everywhere: to parties, to picnics, and while going on a long journey.

The wife has a black and white picture of herself, seated on her mother’s lap while on a picnic, with a transistor radio in the background. If you rummage among old family albums in your attic, chances are that you will find at least one or two such photographs with a transistor lurking somewhere within the frame.

This portability was taken a step further a few years later, by the tape-recorder, the early versions of which were plug-in devices with spool tapes and cumbersome to handle. Then we had the compact and convenient cassette tape and had a compact cassette player to match, which could operate also on batteries. So now, not only was music portable, but we could also choose the kind of music that we wanted to listen to.

This was a mixed blessing, to put it mildly. I remember a car journey from Palghat to Trivandrum, a journey which in those days took close to nine hours, with a family who insisted on playing the same three music tapes they had over and over again. In between, they would also record random snatches of conversations in the car and play it back with much laughter and evident enjoyment, setting my teeth on edge and reducing me to a nervous wreck.

It was but natural and inevitable that the transistor radio and the compact cassette player would combine one day to give you the 2-in-1. When my brother wanted to buy one, we had serious discussions whether to go in for mono or stereo, whether a “Sleep” function was essential or not, whether the “Pause” button was really useful or mere window dressing, and had a host of other questions, most of which I have forgotten now.

The best part was of course that we could jump into our parents’ bed now after dinner with the 2–in-1 having the pride of place, in the middle. Good conversation to the accompaniment of good music with close family and most often, friends or relatives.

It is an enjoyable combination.

Photo Courtesy: Manolo98’s Public Gallery: Picasa Web Albums


Ravi said...

The radio is a big vehicle for the masses in the US even now. If driving to work I listen to the Wall Street Journal and in the evenings I listen to Michael Savage who is a rabidly right wing personality.

Yet the radio in good old India, evokes great memories of the Binaca Geetmala and listening to sports or India winning the hockey world cup in Kuala Lumpur in the 70's.

Satellite radio has ruined a lot of the old charm and people pay a lot monthly for this service,,very soon we'll have to pay a tax just for being alive.

Vijay said...

Nice there was the small transistor that we heard cricket commentaries was a nightmare tuning it.. but that was the fun part (the tuning)...

My Grandad had a vaccum tube Telefunken radio that would take more than 5 minutes to heat up...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

i remember this RECORDING voices bit ..and the laughter.. in fact some of my older cousins have shrill, off key songs recorded for posterity. im sure they would give a lot of money to get hold of and destroy these tapes. ( these incidentally provided the rest of us with much innocent entertainment)

Akshay said...

I often think about this stuff...interesting to read this stuff...kindda nostalgic too...

Gypsy said...

Achan still hangs on to so mnay of these!! we had a home appliances showroom so now every room back home is crammed with relics like ancient transistors and record players. they never fail to spark off wild, nostalgic trips.

Rada said...


Binaca Geetmala! Every Wednesday 8 to 9 pm with the inimitable Ameen Sayani with his honeyed voice! Thank you for reminding..


Thanks. The smaller the device, the more temperamental the tuning, wasn't it?


Keep visiting..and pepping me up with such wonderful comments! :-)


Welcome! You do look "dangerous!" :-)

Rada said...

Hi Gypsy!

Ancient Transistors and Record Players! You better not let me in to your Dad's house in Kerala!

I don't normally have kleptomaniac tendencies, but then why tempt fate? :-)

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.