Whatever happened to …

… transistor radios?

Thanks, pedrojperez via Morguefile.com

That might sound like a bizarre introduction.  FM Radio is everywhere, all around us, and better than ever.  How do you get it?  It certainly was easy when I owned something like in the image above.

Let me start with a dog.

Jaimie and I go for our first walk of the day early in the morning.  Since we go for over an hour, I always load up my old iPod Nano with a bunch of tunes and a podcast or two to entertain me on the trip.  It’s part of my routine before going to bed.  It also has the added advantage of charging the battery.

This week, I went through my regular morning routine, grabbed the dog, grabbed the iPod and we were off to pound the pavement.  As I’m walking, I’m getting the iPod and ear buds in place – looking like any other morning until I tried to turn the iPod on.


I did what every rational user of technology does and pressed harder.

Still nothing.

As I looked at the iPod, I expected to get that “sucks to be you” icon on the screen indicating that the battery was perilously low.  There was nothing to be seen.  Mind racing, I thought that perhaps it had locked up.  I did the typical Apple reset sequence – lift the left leg, bit on your tongue, hold the select button and play button at the same time.

You got it – nothing.

Maybe I got the sequence wrong.  I tried all of the possible press combinations that I could think of.  No luck.

I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the battery is really dead or even worse, completely shot.

It was at this point that I started kicking myself for not loading up my phone with music as a backup.  I’ve just never had to do that and decided to leave room for applications instead.  Not a problem; I’ll just walk and enjoy the sounds of nature.  It’s at this point that I should point out that we’re walking on a commuter route that is 80km/h and then 60km/h once we round the corner.  Even the screeching of a Blue Jay can’t be heard.

I decided to listen to some YouTube and that worked fine until the phone went into standby and turned it off!

I reached our turn around point desperate to listen to something other than cars and trucks going by.  Then I remember.  Most smartphones have an FM receiver built into them.  I remember fondly my first Motorola which had it placed right on the front page.

You can probably guess what happened next.  Without it, there would be no blog post for today.

When I got home, I started poking around and discovered all kinds of conspiracy theories about data companies wanting you to stream and use up the data in your plan rather than providing an FM Radio application by default.  The bottom line – searching the Google Play store and the Samsung App store reveals all kinds of FM Radio players.  I downloaded one and should never be caught like this again.

So, for a Sunday morning…

  • Did you or do you still own a transistor radio?
  • Did you ever make your own at school?  Hey, here’s a makerspace project.
  • Do you listen to media when walking, running, biking, …?
  • What’s your poison?  Music or podcasts?
  • Suppose you do listen to streaming media and you do have a cap on your data plan, how do you monitor it to make sure you don’t go over?
  • Do you have an “over the air” FM Radio app on your Smartphone?
  • Whatever happened to transistor radios?

Bonus Question

  • Where’s the antenna?

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Please share them in the replies below.

Since this is a series, you can check out all of the previous posts here.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

5 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. My first radio was an Ernie and Burt Am only transistor that I won in Grade 1. Listened to it for hours as a kid. Still have and it still works, powered by a 12 volt battery. It’s just not very portable and I’d look a bit odd carrying a plastic Ernie and Burt that’s about the size of a hard cover book! The sound quality leaves a bit to be desired as well. Now a Days I like my iPod or phone and switch between music and podcasts. Some days I go without either. My walk is down quiet village streets and quiet country roads, so I can enjoy the sounds of the birds and the creek.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only listen to radio in the car now. I used to always have CBC/NPR on while I worked around the house. I do love to listen to things while I walk, but after a few minutes I get paranoid about not being able hear scary things sneak up on me and I have to turn it off.

    As for data, I get a text when I am at 95% and I quit using it then. Not very fancy, but it works!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Guess what.. a transistor radio (AM/FM) presently sits on our kitchen counter! That is all it does mostly — sits… and collects dust. I think my husband had hung onto it from years ago and for some reason we just left it tucked on the counter behind the landline phone mount and it often holds down scraps of paper and odd things. I guess it is a paper weight of sorts now! It does work but it is hard not to get static even if we put the antenna up, which is flipped down and secures in a slot at the top in the back (bonus point?). I guess we just got fond of having it around…. just in case haha!

    I walk most evenings but I don’t listen to media — my routes are fairly quiet but with some chatting with people I meet on the way.

    I will have to check what I have on my phone…


  4. Haha, this will be a two for one response:) I really meant to write last week as well, honest. Growing up in the Motor City, and being the age I am, obviously CKLW was huge! Truly the soundtrack to our lives. In grade 7 and 8, we avidly waited to get the Top 30 charts each week and it is fun seeing them now on Facebook when people post pictures of them. But there was another very good local station back then. I think it was called CHYR, or “cheer”, out of Leamington. They also put out weekly charts. Since my husband retired our morning media choices have resulted in a conflict. He likes CBC Radio 1 and I like peace and quiet. So he usually listens to it while I go out walking or running and then graciously says, “You can turn it off,” as I walk by the stereo on my way back into the house. In the car in the morning I have been listening to Radio 2 for quite a few years. Music music music for me. No talking! Aside from The Big 8, the other format change that really affected me was when my son was in grades 5 and 6. Every night (in Toronto) we used to listen to AM640 while making or eating dinner, as they had a Top 5 or 10. It was great, and songs and artists that became really enduring were played, Salt n Pepa, LL Cool J, Dream Warriors, Cypress Hill and more. Then it changed to talk radio. As you might have gathered from the above, I never listened to it again. Like you, I like to go out every morning, but I don’t ever listen to anything. Two reasons: a friend’s sister was hit from behind by a one vehicle trying to pass another (she was on the correct side), and that young woman who was eaten by coyotes in Nova Scotia. Well I guess the main reason would actually be my paranoia:) At our new house the soundscape has changed. There are a lot of pine forests and it has been interesting testing myself as to the difference between wind in the trees and an approaching vehicle. I’m getting better. And so far, my bear sightings have been in front of me and nothing appears to stalking me or eyeing up my small dog for breakfast.
    Now about transistor radios – yes I had one! And headphones with one earbud to listen to it. Constantly. And, my friend Pam and I tried to build one for science in about grade 6 or 7. My most vivid memory was buying the parts. We had no money, and her parents dropped me off one Sunday at a hole-in-the-wall place that sold used parts. I bought what we needed and then got horribly lost trying to get home, and it was a cold damp winter day. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents. The things they let us do back then! Plus the darn radio never worked. I remember so wishing an adult would help us “de-bug” it, but I think neither set of parents nor the teacher were so inclined.
    That might be another Sunday question: whatever happened to total childhood freedom that may well have killed us, but didn’t?
    Thanks so much for the FM radio tip – I did not know that!
    Antenna? What antenna? Radio signals are magic:)


  5. Still have and use daily a Grundig G8 transistor radio. Of course it uses ICs rather than discrete transistors but the principle remains the same. What has changed is that I can no longer listen to those distant stations in Chicago and New Orleans; the noise from modern-day devices such as LED lighting has made for an electromagnetic soup.


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