A trip to the radio store
In yesterday’s post I relayed the story of being banned from playing the kind of music I liked on the family stereo. Not to be deterred, I set out to build my own stereo system so I could close the door to my room and play whatever I wanted. I figured all I would need was a turntable, radio and a speaker. I would build these three elements into a cabinet and have myself an awesome music making machine.
In the early 1960′s we had radio stores. They don’t really exist any longer, but these stores typically had a radio repairman in the back of the shop and out in front various makes and models of radios, turntables, amplifiers and loudspeakers were laying about. The store I was familiar with had a crusty old guy named Al that never put prices on any of the equipment in the front. Whenever I would come in to browse Al would lift one eyebrow and glare at me, making sure I didn’t steal anything. I’d never purchased anything from this guy but I did hang out a lot.
I had a budget of about $50 to work with having earned money over the summer as a darkroom tech at the local newspaper, the Anaheim Bulletin. I certainly didn’t want to tell this old guy my budget but rather wanted to try and impress upon him the seriousness of my buying power, hoping he’d actually want my business. I found an old hulk of a record changer sitting in a corner of the shop and asked Al if it worked. ”It spins, the record changer’s broken, but it works.” Since I didn’t own more than one or two albums at the time it seemed to be ok that the auto changing part of this turntable didn’t work.
“How much?” Al would always size up his customers to see how much he could charge. He knew I didn’t have any money.
“$10 bucks as is.” Sweet! I now had a turntable. Since this unit was pulled out of an old console stereo, it had a couple of screw terminals in the bottom for the AC power and a few signal wires from the cartridge just dangling there. I was pretty sure I could make this work in my new dream system. But I still needed an radio. ”What’cha gonna hook it up to?” Al had this way of asking piercing questions as he peered over his Ben Franklin glasses, taking a drag of his Camel cigarette. He always made me feel stupid. I’ll never forget the ugly brown stains on his smoking fingers.
“I don’t know. I need a radio to hook it up to.” I was trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about in the hopes of getting some credibility out of the old duffer.
“You don’t need no radio, you need an amp. Like this one.” Out from behind the counter Al pulled an old, dusty tube amp out. It was ugly. It had obviously been inside some piece of stereo equipment in its long past and now it stared back at me looking for a home. ”You put your turntable wires in here, connect your speaker up here and add a plug here. It works.” He lit a fresh Camel.
“How much?” That took a while as Al sized me up. He already had me for $10. He took a long drag on the smoke, blew it up in the air in a thoughtful gesture.
“$50 and I’ll test the tubes for you.”
“I only have $50 total and I need a speaker too.” I pulled the coveted wad of two $20s and a $10 from my front pocket and laid it on the table. He just stared at the money, then looked at me in disgust. He crushed the stub of his camel in an overflowing ashtray. It felt like that’s what he wanted to do to me.
“Ok kid. I’ll give you the amp, changer and a woofer for $70. You can pay me later.” Wow, I walked out of the store with a cardboard box filled with my new found treasures. I was in.
Over the weekend I put together a tall cabinet the width of the turntable changer. I had that mounted on the top of the cabinet. Right below it was the amplifier with it’s power switch, volume and tone control knobs sticking out the front. Below that was another box housing the single 8″ woofer. That woofer had what is known as a whizzer cone that was supposedly a tweeter. It was all magic and wonderfulness to me.
I wired everything together, got my good friend David Wiley to help me haul it down to the basement and there it was. The most beautiful piece of audio equipment in the whole world. David and I just stared at it. He wanted it for himself.
Much to our surprise, it worked. Tomorrow, the trouble begins.