I received this Channel Master six-transistor pocket radio for Christmas when I was in the sixth grade. It became my most prized possession. This radio led to my discovery of music artists like Jimmy Reed, Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Dorothy Love Coats and many more. I discovered the new sound of the blues and the sound of my generation, in sharp contrast to that of my parents.
Back then this small radio was a technological and engineering masterpiece. Their pocket size sparked a change in popular music listening habits, for the first time allowing people to listen to music anywhere they went. This radio went everywhere with me. Transistor radios were extremely successful because of three social forces — a large number of young people due to a post-World War II baby boom, a public with a disposable income during a period of prosperity, and the growing popularity of rock 'n' roll music. My transistor radio only received AM signals. AM radio uses a very simple amplitude frequency that produces long-range, but low-quality, broadcasts.
It only took a short while for this radio to get me into trouble. At night I would get underneath the bed covers and listen to what ever I could find. At times the AM signal would fade causing me to turn up the volume, usually just before the signal returned. This undercover method of listening was not to my father’s liking. He would come in and threaten to take away my radio if I didn’t turn it off and go to sleep. This problem was eliminated when I discovered there were earpieces that could make for true personal listening. That must have been when my habit of staying up late began to form.
Transportation back then was via bicycle. I lived in Northport on the Watermelon Road. I thought nothing of peddling to visit Johnny Montgomery at his family’s store down the Montgomery highway. That is all the way across Tuscaloosa and about a ten-mile trip one way. My ever-present transistor radio would be tuned to WVOK during these daytime outings.
Nighttime was the right time for radio listening. Because of the nature of AM radio you would receive ‘skips’ from stations far away. Back then there were always the powerhouse radio stations like WWL in New Orleans, WSM in Nashville and WLS in Chicago. Later came WDIA in Memphis where I first heard B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. Wolfman Jack and his super powered XERF “Border Radio” in Mexico could be heard if the weather was just right. Locally Tiger Jack Garrett was T-Town’s top jock as I entered driving age. Tiger Jack played many local or regional bands because the area was ripe with garage bands and their great original music.