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My radio in my office conked out this week. So I went looking for another, of course. Do you know how hard it is just to buy a radio these days? In addition to a radio, you not only get a clock, speakers the size of a politician’s ego, and a CD player, you also get a docking station for your MP3 player or iPod.

The obvious question is: why is there a radio there? I think it’s because radios require almost no parts and they’re easy to build* so why not stick one on this thing we’ve come up with?

*If you’re from my generation, you can remember the thrill of building a radio yourself. It was called a … darn! What was the name for those things? Anyway, it was a radio you built for yourself. It had all the little wires that you plugged into holes on what was either a circuit board or a used egg carton. Then, you ran this one wire across the room and wrapped it around something that served as a “ground”. In my case, it was the old metal gas pipe that was in my bedroom. What kids without old metal gas pipes did, I don’t know. Probably got frustrated and took up drugs.

Lastly, you could wire in an ear phone. This was like half of an ear-bud (as we wear nowadays with our iPods, MP3 players and telephones) but with all the audio fidelity of can of beans with a string running out the bottom and over to the neighbor kid’s house.** Still, if you fiddled around long enough, in those few seconds before the 9 volt battery ran out, you could hear actual radio broadcasts! Because the wire that ran from my radio to the gas pipe was only about three inches long, and the wire for the ear phone was only about six inches long, I remember many evening spent lying on the floor beside my bed, listening to D.W. Eck give the farm report. It wasn’t interesting, but it was the only station I could get, so I knew what pork bellies were going for even though I didn’t have any idea what they were.***

** Did this ever work? Even if you took the beans out of the can and washed it, and coated the string with wax like the instructions said (have you ever tried to coat a string with wax? You can’t. It’s one of those things parents used to have their kids do so they kids wouldn’t bother them while they were watching “Bowling for Dollars” on the TV). Then, you’d run the string from one can to another and the only reason you could hear each other is that you were both shouting at the top of your lungs, “Can you hear me now?” We may not have made the homemade green-bean telephone work, but we were years ahead of Verizon as far as marketing went.

So anyway, the simplest radio I could find today was a clock radio. I didn’t want a clock radio. I never have much luck with radios (no gas pipe, I guess) so I am convinced that anything added on to the radio detracts from its ability to work. The simple mechanism of a digital clock makes it that much less likely that I will be able to tell whether Rush Limbaugh is for or against the legislation, so I just want a SIMPLE radio. No frills.

As I type this, I notice that there’s an old capped-off gas line over there by the baseboards. I wonder if Radio Shack is still open?

*** Still don’t.

**** “Crystal radios”! That’s what those things were called. I don’t know why—as I don’t seem to remember them having a crystal. But then, I didn’t put in four asterisks anywhere else, either, so what do I know?