Good Old Days -Our First Radio
By Glen Herndon
(Editor’s note: “Good Old Days” magazine published this story in 2003. Glen Herndon writes lovingly about moving to our area, and when they bought their first radio, they discovered and fell in love with KTRB.)
In 1938 we had moved from the oil fields of Oklahoma to the little town of Waterford in California’s fertile Central Valley. We found things there much more to our liking. For one thing, our home was now served by electricity, and Mother could have electric appliances. We no longer needed kerosene lamps, and for the first time in my 10 years, there was some talk around the dinner table about radio.
We had never had it back east-in fact, no one we knew had a set-so we didn’t miss it. Then my older brother, Ed, bought a Ford V-8 car and took me for a ride one day. He turned on the car’s radio and the Lightcrust Doughboys serenaded us to town and back. But it didn’t make much of an impression on me; I was more interested in the speedometer! He showed me he was going 50 miles per hour, and when he passed a slower car, I watched as it drifted off into the distance behind us.
I could hardly wait to get home to tell Mother how fast we’d gone! Then, when it came time to move to California, I rode with my parents’ best friends, Mr. and Mrs. Cloud, in their new Ford V-8. It, too, had a radio and they played it constantly. But I was more interested in the sights along the way and, on Route 66, seeing all the poor farmers with their ragged families in old, beat-up cars and trucks going the same direction we were-as Mr. Cloud said, to get a new start in California. He said they had lived in the Dust Bowl where there were awful dry conditions and they couldn’t farm there any more.
And so it was that on an early fall morning, Mother and I got ready to go to her favorite store, Montgomery Ward (or, as she fondly called it, Monkey Wards), about 15 miles away in downtown Modesto. She had a shopping list she kept to herself and a purse holding her and Dad’s earnings from their seasonal job in a tomato cannery. With the crop done, that job had now ended, and she could go and buy things she needed for our home. We would take Dad’s Model A Ford.
I was not looking forward to the trip; it would be a boring day for me. My sole purpose in going along was to carry things to the car, for she could rarely find a parking spot very close to the store.
I felt a little better after we went through Empire. As it happened, a little freight train was puffing along the tracks that ran parallel to State Route 132. Mother pulled the Model A up even with it, and I was fascinated by the black smoke pouring out of the smokestack, the big wheels turning so fast, and the noise. I smiled when the engineer sounded the whistle. Pretty soon we were even with him, and when I waved to him, he waved back! We continued like this for some time, until we got to the outskirts of Modesto, where the tracks veered away.
Mother had to park a good half-block away from the big store, and she wasted no time daydreaming, for she had many purchases to make. My work of shuttling goods to the car soon began, and I remember well the first parcels-two big feather pillows for her and Dad’s bed. I was a pretty big kid, but they were all I could handle.
The rest of the morning went pretty much the same. There was a parcel of new underwear for all her menfolk, and then another of new pants and shirts and bib overalls. The little car was rapidly filling up when she said that before going home, we would go to Smitty’s Lunch and buy ourselves a store-bought hamburger and a Coca-Cola.
As we ate in a leisurely fashion, she gave absolutely no hint that she planned to go back to the store. But soon we were there again, and this time we were looking at radios.
A salesman tried to sell her a big floor model, but she said she didn’t have enough money for such as that. He worked his way down and finally showed her one that would suit. He said it was a table model, but a rather large table model to accommodate a large speaker for good music tones. It was the Airline Deluxe, with eight-push-button tuning. It really was beautiful in its highly polished, walnut-finish cabinet with lighted dial and brass trim around the dial and push buttons.
The buttons were simple to set, and we agreed that would be my job when we got it home. It came with a sheet with little printed tabs with any station call letters on the West Coast. Today I can recall only two of them: KTRB, our local station in Modesto, and KSFO, from San Francisco. I will never forget KTRB because my family was always up and around at dawn and the radio switched on when KTRB began its new day with Frankie Carle’s Sunrise Serenade. Later, my high-school choir would sing from their studios.
KTRB presented another popular program on Saturday mornings, Mrs. Glass’ Amateur Hour, featuring local children. She always played the studio piano and led them in her theme, “I must learn my ABCs, bring home A’s instead of D’s, and my folks I’d surely please, but I like rhythm in my nursery rhyme!”
After a few days with the radio, I was like all my friends, listening to Little Orphan Annie, The Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, and asking Mother to buy me chocolatey Ovaltine and Wheaties, “the breakfast of champions” and Jack Armstrong’s favorite. Mother succumbed to the ads, too, and bought a box of Oxydol to try, and another time, Rinso White to use in her Maytag washer.
We lived only a block from school and she always fixed a hot lunch for me. When I came home to eat, she always had one of her new soap opera programs on. I remember especially Mary Marlin, Backstage Wife, Ma Perkins and Stella Dallas. We found these programs fascinating as we pictured the stories in our minds.
Mother was very musical, with a glorious alto singing voice, and as she worked, she sang along with music from the radio. Harmony came naturally to her, and she often sang her own improvised harmony line. It was all very beautiful and improved her quality of life.
That first radio back in the Good Old Days was a blessing to us all!
(Reprinted by permission from the January 2003 issue of Good Old Days magazine,
House of White Birches publishers, Berne, IN 46711, www.GoodOldDaysMagazine.com)