By on February 20, 2014
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In my office is a clock radio and, if you are a child of the ‘70s or ‘80s, you already know which one. Made by GE, it has a red LED display, a plastic wood grain case and mounts one tinny speaker on top. It runs all day long, playing the greatest hits of the era in which it was built, and it fills the space with the cheerful din of bygone days. Everyone who sees it, thinks that I have owned it forever but the truth is that I spent long hours searching for that exact model. The fact I sought it out at all says a lot about me, that I have a strange attachment to old things, that I think history is important and, perhaps most obviously, that I am not an audiophile. Odd, it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time that most cars came equipped with a radio strikingly similar to the one on my desk. You know the kind, two knobs split by a row of five spring loaded buttons that were wired to whip the tuner manually from one point on the dial to the next. If you were lucky, in addition to those five buttons, your radio also had a little switch that would let you change up to the FM band. If you had that, you were a king.

Tape decks changed that. Although I imagine that they must have come as extra cost options in some cars as early as the very late sixties, I don’t really recall tape decks appearing in the cars my friends and family drove prior to about 1980. The few that did show up were outrageously expensive and of such low quality that most people simply went out and purchased their own. They weren’t at all hard to wire in.

04 - 1981 Dodge Aries Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

I installed my first car stereo in my ‘74 Chevy Nova sometime in the summer of 1983. Like most modifications to the little car, I did it without my father’s permission and he was enormously unhappy, but the installation was smooth and, thanks to my brother Tracy who provided me with a pair of cast off, wooden speaker boxes that I seat belted in the back seat, I didn’t even had to cut the package tray to install my 6X9s.

The process was simple, I simply stood on my head under the dashboard of a car and went to work. The red wire with the fuse holder got stripped and twisted together with the red line on the car and the black wire got bolted to the firewall. Once the power came on, you messed around with remaining wires in sequence until one speaker or another made noise. A quadraphonic system added an extra layer of complexity, of course, but so long as you had the power on and were willing to work your way through all the combinations you could figure it out before the blood rushed to your head. It was fun and easy and, before I knew it, I had a successful little side business do it for others.

When I turned 20 and started working at Schuck’s Auto Supply, I was pleased to find out that my employee discount included a generous 20% off anything in the house, including the assortment of radios mounted in a large, lighted display off to the side of the sales floor. The brand was Kraco and it wasn’t long before I had one. The addition of a digital clock meant and extra wire, one that required an unswitched connection to the battery, but I made it work by routing that wire to the dome-light circuit ahead of the pin switch in the door.

Radio Shack Car Accessories - 1986 - Picture courtesy of RadioShackCatalogs.com

As time passed, I found that the Kraco stereos came and went from our store with amazing regularity. When the old ones left there was a sale and, as a person who spent a lot of time after work fiddling around with the various combinations that display allowed, I always new what the best set-up was. Like a person addicted to cosmetic surgery, I found myself obsessed with swapping out my car stereo every few months. Looking back now, I think that the difference between the various units was negligible, but back then it was exciting and I always felt like was riding the cutting edge of technology. That stopped, however, when I bought my first new car, my Dodge Shadow, in February 1988.

I factory ordered the best stereo I could. A digitally tuned AM/FM Cassette that, among other things, featured a little joystick that adjusted both balance and fade in one fell swoop. Hooked up with four decent speakers on the factory floor, the little stereo made such a glorious noise that I never felt like I needed another. And so I was for a few years until one auspicious day shortly after I had returned from Operation Desert Storm.

05 - 1992 Dodge Shadow America Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

I was prowling through the return section of a local electronics store and found something I had never seen before, it was made by Kenwood and was called the CD shuttle. It was an interesting concept, a trunk mounted multi-disk CD player controlled by a small hidden panel in the front of the car. It’s hard to remember now, but CDs were still a new thing in 1991 and even though I only had a single disc, Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, I wanted in. Since the box was already open, I sat right down on the floor in the middle of the store and started going through it. According to the spec sheet, it was all there, and the installation looked simple. Some poor shmuck, I reckoned, had ordered the unit before deciding he had bitten off more than he could chew and, despite the fact he had done nothing more than look through the box, the store couldn’t sell the unit as new anymore. Their loss was my gain.

Back at home, however I learned the folly of my ways. Even though all the parts were there, I found the head unit had to be purchased separately and that once you had the system itself wired together, the outputs had to be run through an external amplifier in order to make noise come out of the speakers. The cost was exorbitant, but I was flush with easy Merchant Marine money and would not be dissuaded. $1000 later I had one of the most kick ass systems going and the best part was that it was all hidden. I didn’t even need to replace my own. stock stereo, I simply bought a switching unit that allowed me to control the CD player by remote. When I was done, the only sign I had anything extra in the cars was small LCD screen that sat in my car’s otherwise unused ash tray.

Image courtesy of kenwood.eu

Image courtesy of kenwood.eu

Overall, it worked really well but my ability as an amateur electrician, if there can be such a thing, was stretched to the limit and I knew then the handwriting was on the wall. In later years I changed the radios in a couple of older cars I owned, my JDM Supra was one and my 200SX was another, but never again did I try to build a system from the ground up, it was just too much work and, thanks to the quality of the systems coming out of the factory today, has never been necessary.

My most recent acquisition, the Town and Country we purchased last summer, came with a system that I couldn’t have dreamed of back in the days I was crawling around under the dashboard. AM/FM/Satellite radio, a CD/DVD player, a built in hard drive I can load from CD ROM, DVD or memory stick, blue tooth networking for cell phones and a navigation screen. Added to that is a blue ray player and two fold down screens as well as four wireless headphones that can operate independently of the main system so the kids can enjoy their own noise while I enjoy my own. It plays into the cabin through a dozen or more hidden speakers, and the entire experience is one of light and crystal clear sound. It is simply amazing. No amount of tweaking, I think could make it any better.

The odd thing is, other than my tinny little radio at work, I rarely listen to music at all anymore. And when I do, thanks to almost a half decade spent working in ships’ engine rooms, the many days I’ve spent staring down the barrel of one rifle or another and all those days I spent testing the limits of my own eardrums via the many aforementioned car stereos, the ringing in my ears never stops and it doesn’t really matter how good the quality is. Of course, it was never really about quality tunes anyway, it was about the fun. When you look at it that way, any radio, it turns out, can be a rock and roll radio.

2012 Chrysler 200S Convertible, Interior, uConnect, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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52 Comments on “Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio?...”


  • avatar
    IHateCars

    +1 for The Ramones reference in the title.
    Gabba gabba hey!

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    What, no 8-track love?

    My folks had a conversion Dodge van with an overhead-mounted 8-track player + 2 speaker assembly bought from JC Whitney IIRC. That thing serenaded our many long road trips (NYC -> Alaska, NYC -> Utah, NYC -> Florida many times, ski trips, etc), and the Mamas and the Papas, Peter Paul and Mary, Ray Coniff, and the Chipmunks were the soundtrack to many arguments and beatings that took place in that van.

    • 0 avatar

      I had an 8 track in my Nova for a while. My original version of the story talked about them but it was running way long and I ended up cutting it out. I even had one of those funky 8 track to cassette tape adapters.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        Back in ’73, my first car stereo was one of those chrome underdash Radio Shack units and played both cassettes and 8-tracks. No slot to put the tape in, it was an open top setup with guide rails and two sets of heads/drives. You just aligned the cassette or cartridge against its specific guide wall, and pushed it in. The tape mechanism rose and started playing. You pushed a button on the case to eject.

        • 0 avatar
          fincar1

          Big Red, my 1960 New Yorker 2-door hardtop, had an 8-track player in it, and even came with a couple of tapes. Some a-hole prowled the car and stole the tapes, and I found the torn-up packages beside the road a day later. He’d just taken them to trash them.

          Nowadays the factory system in the 2009 Accord sounds fine to me.

  • avatar

    I built a custom stereo for my Cutlass in high school–top line tape deck with amp/equalizer from Radio Shack. I loved that setup so much, I pulled it when I sold the car, put it in a wood cabinet, wired it up so I could plug it in to a 110v outlet, and took it to college.

    It was great for about two years, and then I discovered CDs.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Do you have this one!?

    http://img1.etsystatic.com/000/0/6538476/il_570xN.304415045.jpg

    I had this one, forever. It’s still at my parents house, in the room I have there, still working. It’s been plugged in since about 1993.

    • 0 avatar

      Close. I think mine is a generation or two older. My brother had one that actually had a mechanical flip digital clock inside of it. That’s the one I really wanted. But for the LED mine is identical to his so I expect mine is pretty old.

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      I still use an older version of that from the late 80’s as my daily alarm clock.
      I’m a sound sleeper so picked out the one with the loudest alarm, turned out to be the most reliable too.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      I’m a bit older, so when I was a kid I had three GE analog clock-radios with electron-tube AM radio (all synchronized perfectly to each other and set to WWV shortwave atomic clock).

      But I found the best alarm clock ever, in the 1980s, the GE Great Awakening with keypad entry and dual alarms:

      http://www.inherentmirth.com/index.php/ge-great-awakenings-and-sony

      I still have one in my bedroom, and a few more tucked away in storage.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I have that one! I bought it to take to college for my freshman year, summer of ’87, and it still sits on my bedside table to this day. I never use the alarm anymore though, I just set the one on my phone.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I can certainly tell I’m a decade+ younger than you guys. My first car was a 1988 Dodge Ramcharger that came with a digitally-tuned AM/FM radio hooked to only two 6×9 speakers mounted at floor-level in the doors. It was a half-carpet truck with exposed metal rear wheel wells and a vinyl mat in back, so when the radio was loud enough to hear at anything above 45mph (or in the rain at any speed) it distorted so badly it could become nearly unrecognizable.

    My parents gave me a Sony AM/FM/tape deck (and adapter kit, aftermarket units were only single DIN at the time and Mopars all had 1.5 DIN factory units) for christmas or a birthday one year and my dad and I had no problems doing the install dance. When we were finished my dad commented how happy he was with the sound improvement because he was afraid we would have to replace the speakers to make it sound better, to which I commented that we could have replaced speakers twice in the time it took to do the head unit.

    After that I was off on my own, added indoor/outdoor 3-way hanging box speakers to the roof in the rear (hatch didn’t seal well, so I planned for the worst) and upgraded the door 6x9s. Then my buddies started building sub boxes and I went from 2x 8″ in “truck” boxes on a 150w Westinghouse amp to moving that 150w amp to my door 6x9s and putting 4x JBL 10″ in a custom two-channel ported box (it was about 2.5′ x 2.5′ x 18″) run on an 800w dual-channel (FAN COOLED!) amplifier. By that time I had also upgraded to an AM/FM/CD head unit with motorized removable face plate and a remote control, because a discman on my trans tunnel skipped too much when the bass hit and my tape deck kept tearing up tape adapters.

    Of course that foolishness came to an end after I graduated college. My first brand-new truck had the higher-end Infiniti sound system which I liked well enough. Nearly 12 years later in the same truck I can’t be bothered to replace the driver’s side 6×9 that blew at least 4 years ago nor do anything about either rear 6.5 door speaker that haven’t worked since my kids were old enough to pull themselves into the truck by the door wiring.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Looked at T&C at the local auto show. I like how Chrysler incorporated the “joystick” fader/balance in touchscreen form on the new head units.

    I always thought the GE clock radios had the best sound. Not as tinny as the bad ones, not Tivoli Model One either.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    I’m a mossback, I know, but I liked the round, mellow tones produced by vacuum tube radios. It seemed to me that the radios in Chryslers and Fords (Philco) sounded the best. I can just remember the set in my oldest brothers ’46 De Soto. It looked like a jukebox, and was probably just as heavy, but it had a very warm sound. Plus, the old radios were so easy to use.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    My father had a small briefcase full of tapes in his ’82 Mirada; over time he ended up memorizing the locations of each one so he could play them even in the dark. The briefcase eventually made its way into the ’98 F-250 SuperCab, where we made good use of the rear speakers in the third door.

    –Car-related comment ends here. Anyone who doesn’t care about what was on the tapes, now is a good time to stop reading.–

    About half of the tapes were the originals; the other half were bootlegs recorded off the radio or LPs (the early 80’s J.C. Penney/Sears stereo is still in use by me; although the tape player/recorder no longer functions and the left speaker is starting to go, the turntable and radio work fine). Apparently when Electric Light Orchestra’s “Time” came out, Dad played it so much that he wore out the tape and replaced it with a bootleg…twice. Mostly, I have fond memories of listening to two tapes in the F-250: Boston’s “Third Stage,” with the stereo turned all the way up for a track called “The Launch,” and a live album by “ELO part II” with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. When they did their rendition of “Roll Over Beethoven,” they actually played the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th. Good times.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to brag or anything, but I had two of those 48 tape briefcases stuck back to back with double stick tape sitting on the bench seat under my right arm. Keeping them organized was a chore, but it was a worthwhile one, swapping out a tape in the dark is an art.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I completely forgot about cassette tape briefcases.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Would look good in the back of this.

          http://www.ebay.com/itm/131120576526?forcerRptr=true&item=131120576526&viewitem=&sspagename=ADME:B:SS:US:1120

          MINT

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The seller should have paid me to take it away.

            Mark Cross though…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s in great shape for that price! You never see that final revised NY.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            They used to be very common around here but they were the cheapee Salon editions. If you really liked K-cars this might have been the ticket. For a the same or little more I’m in similar condition Deville/Park Ave/Riviera territory though so I meh the NY.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            What happened with that black Deville on ebay, he ever post a photo of the tranny stuff like you wanted?

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          I remember Dads cassette cases and recording from the radio. I still keep two Case Logic CD in the car. Why, I don’t know, nearly everything in them is on my iPod. I remember his 78 Toyota with the Penneys 8 track added in too.

          Between the MP3, Satellite radio and whatever is next, it’s so easy to have your tunes with you anywhere you are. It’s the only tech other than ABS and airbags I’m grateful for today.

          I did a few hackneyed radio swaps in my cars. Today’s stuff is so integrated that it takes a lot more money and time. And most factory stuff today sounds “good enough” to my ears anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        I put a small piece of tape on every 5th cassette so I could find them where they should be….

      • 0 avatar
        pb35

        I had a two-sided cassette briefcase that I hauled around in my GTI in the 90s (I think it held 60). I kept it in the backseat and would reach back and grab the “mystery tape.” My friends would always ask “why do you need to carry so many tapes?” Someone smashed my window at the movies one night and grabbed them all. Long Island. The GTI had a benzi box too, the Blaupunkt was in the trunk. Once my tapes were lifted, I used that as an opportunity to convert my collection to CD and haven’t looked back since.

        I also had a GE 7-4880 clock radio that my dad gave to me as a kid. It was way ahead of its time with a number keypad to set the time and tune the radio. I still have the box with some old papers in it (the window sticker from my first new car, etc).

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’m still a radio junkie and there’s NO music on AM anymore =8-( .

    When my old bed side clock radio went kaput a decade ago , my Son spent some time finding me a new one for Father’s Day , the LCD display crapped out after only 10 years and I just tossed it out last week .

    I agree , the sound of tube radios is nice , I keep the original PYE AM tube radio in my ’59 Metropolitan Nash working .

    Thanx for the various memories , I still have three ” Tape Logic ” cassette soft cases my Son bought me in the early 1990’s .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    bachewy

    I went through similar training. I know enough that I didn’t try upgrading the stereo in my ’09 Tacoma – I paid a shop to pull wires, wire in adapters, and cuss at the whole mess while bloodying knuckles to put in a new head unit.
    They tried to sell me on an amp but like you, my ears already ring all the time from loud computer rooms and guns in my military career (IT Warrior!).

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m from the ’90s, so by the time I started paying attention to cars, the stereos were pretty decent. But this is an excellent story!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You ain’t heard nuthin’ until you take an old tube AM car radio, add a second 6×9 speaker and hook up a reverb! Now that’s as good as AM radio could ever sound in a car!

    An associate in the air force in 1971 drove a Day-Glo green Roadrunner with this setup. The sound from KOBO/Yuba City was simply magnificent!

    One could buy an FM-only stereo radio to hang under the dash. The best one was made by a company called “Automatic Radio”, or AR for short, not to be confused with the other AR – “Acoustic Resarch”. Radio Shack sold them for $100.00! A lot of money back in the day. On base they were $50.

  • avatar
    readallover

    Had a generic cassette deck in my 1973 Celica with the cassette `suitcase`. Unfortunately, I could not afford the highly desired Pioneer KP-500 cassette/FM stereo with the cool green backlit dial.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    My dad had as an acquaintance a local FM broadcast owner. So in my 60’s childhood I mostly remember open reel tapes. Specifically made in an American Concertone model 505.

    Like this one:
    http://www.recycledgoods.com/zoom/42576

    Of course, couldn’t be used in vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      Only the most serious audiophiles owned reel to reel tape machines. I had one on my home stereo for a year or two int he 80s, but that was when they were already old and out of date. I was using it to record the audio of of Japanese anime and then trying to go back and mix out the words with the idea of dubbing our own. It never worked.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    My very first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. Some of the paint work had brush marks. I then bought a decent quality stereo/cassette deck and speakers, and they cost more than the car did. Ah, the good old days.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Tape decks were an option on some cars in the 1960’s. My 1967 Thunderbird has an AM radio which came as standard equipment, however, an AM/FM radio with an 8-Track player was a factory option.

    I have two of the adaptors for playing cassettes in 8-track decks. I found these for a few bucks at a yard sale a few years ago. They must have sold in decent numbers because they are still fairly common. I no longer own an 8-Track player and my only 8-Track tape is a copy of “The Pleasure Principle” by Gary Numan which have had since around 1981 or so.

    I remember doing the underdash headstand to install car radios. I did this on my 1962 Studebaker Hawk, 1976 Fiat 128, 1979 Plymouth Horizon, 1985 Dodge Aries and 1996 Chevy Cavalier. The Cavalier had a decent factory AM/FM radio Cassette player, but I just had to have a radio with a CD player. The one I installed was an in-dash unit, but it had the detatchable faceplate which was supposed to deter theft.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    When I brought the Taurus back life a couple of years ago, the AM/FM/Cassette unit finally gave up the ghost. I was already rebuilding my music collection not on cassette tapes like my original, nor on CD; but on my iPhone; so bought a relatively inexpensive Pioneer unit with the USB port that can control and play the music on my iPhone. Much better than gropping for cassettes and CDs in the dark. I tried to find a unit that let me change the color of the display, and looked as low-tech as possible to blend in with the 1990s dashboard.

    My 1990 Dodge Spirit had a radio like that one; it looked cool and sounded great. The cars in between had CD players; but I love best the concept of carrying my music around on my phone. The results sound good enough to my own aging ears; but a station wagon will never have the good bass response of a sedan because there is no trunk to use as a speaker box.

    I likewise installed an AM/FM/cassette in my first car, a 1974 Plymouth Fury, cut the holes in the package deck and installed the 6 x 9 speakers. Later on, a shop had to remove the dashboard to replace the A/C condensor; during the test drive afterwards, something inside the dash shorted out and caught fire. I sometimes wonder if it was the wiring to the radio that did it.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve been installing car stereos since the mids 80s and was active in “sound off” competitions thru the mid 90s. Thus I landed firmly in the tape to CD transition. In fact my first competition system featured a Sony CD player with an external, (very slick) slide-out tape deck as a backup source since CDs were cutting edge and sort of rare (plus expensive) at the time.

    While stereos today are more integrated and thus the old days of simply swapping out a AM/FM tape deck are LONG gone, we now have cheap access to the world of DSP (Digital Sound Processors). Thus you can keep your factory radio but add any number of high quality speakers and amps, building a truly epic sounding system with ease. I’ve got Alpine’s Imprint system in my 350Z and its amazing: you play test tones via a PC app over USB and a microphone records the sonic signature of your vehicle. From there the DSP does auto-magic frequency and time correction (delay). The results are a very balanced sound with a nearly perfect sound stage. Other systems like Rockford’s 3.sixty.3 and JBL’s MS-8 do similar tricks using DSPs to shape the sound, thus overcoming the many short comings in speaker position and frequency response that happen in a car environment.

    Also advances in digital amps (Class D), fiberglass enclosure construction and insanely strong voice coils, weather proof cone materials, etc, means you can get amazing audio response in almost any vehicle. Gone are the days of huge speaker boxes and miles of wiring.

    So I guess I’m the opposite of most of you, I don’t long for those old days – audio systems sucked back then. Those classic EQs and amps added so much noise and distortion to the signal they were nearly worthless. However I do miss the QUALITY, today we get stuff that is so compressed its terrible. Especially compared to the original CDs which had amazing frequency response along with a wide dynamic range. Now satellite radio and MP3s squeeze the audio down into the smallest possible size for bandwidth reasons thus the music quality itself is completely lost. Apple’s iTunes has done a pretty good job with its ALAC format which is lossless, so the compression doesn’t ruin the original audio quality.

    Thanks to the iPod we can now carry our entire music collection into any vehicle and quickly get the tunes playing via USB. Most stock systems now have separate tweeters, midranges and woofers along with dedicated amps. Back in the 80s I had all that, but it required tons of money and serious installation skills to make it work.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I know what you mean. I used to care a lot more about my car’s stereo when I was younger. It mattered then because the blaring metal was rarely if ever below 8/10s, usually at 11.

    Nowadays, there’s usually someone else in the car that doesn’t like the music as loud as I do, and most factory systems sound good enough at 8/10s where I’m not interested in messing with them. How things change.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I used to like to listen to Canadian (Southwest Ontario) rock and roll stations. It seems that they have been increasingly flipped to adult contemporary. Detroit really only has one rock and two classic rock stations now too. Damn country music.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Years back there was a station out of London, Ontario I enjoyed when I was in Erie (somewhere in the 105 range), but last I was there (2010) it seems to have been replaced by something terrible.

      • 0 avatar
        Sals

        Mid 60s to mid 70s, did anyone here listen to CKLW-AM “The Big 8″ from Windsor?

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I’m too young to have listened in those days, but my parents loved that station in those days. I’ve seen a documentary on CKLW as well. There was nothing more “Detroit” than listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers’ games or CKLW on a hot summer night. I basically grew up in a bar on the east side, and listening to Ernie on the radio with my grandfather is still one of my greatest childhood memories.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Ernie was on 760, WJR, “the great voice of the Great Lakes, broadcasting from the golden tower of the Fisher Building!” “Foul ball to the right..and a nice lady from Livonia’ll take that one home!” (As a certain conservative talker calls it, “the 50,000 watt blowtorch”; in northern Michigan on a clear night, it came in clear as could be!)

            I grew up in Detroit (moved to Toledo when I was 14), and remember when CK was “The Motor ‘C’.” At that time, retired Detroit morning DJ Dick Purtan was on CKLW for a few years after having been at WXYZ radio. He was famous for “Put-On Calls” in which he would contact a “victim” with some big thing for which a friend or associate had put Mr. Purtan up to. The FCC restricted these a little, but once Dick went onto Canadian airwaves, all bets were off! My two faves were when Purtan pwned a Porsche 924 owner by posing as a repair shop owner who “hooned” the car too much, and a guy who Purtan drove to threatening suicide on the air after he nearly shot the guy’s upcoming planned golf-tournament into the nearest water hazard!

            Purtan moved back across the border to WCZY (which became WKQI, don’t know what it is now), then moved to WOMC, from which he retired maybe two years ago. (IIRC, he had a falling-out with Tom Ryan, his sidekick on XYZ and CK, but they mended fences somewhat–Ryan was the evening-drive DJ on ‘OMC early after Dick went in there mornings, when he worked with his one daughter through the end of his career.)

            When Purtan moved to ‘CZY, my Dad, who never had FM in a car before, stood in line at Mickey Shorr for ** 4 hours ** to get in on the “No One Should Be Without Dick Purtan For A Day” promo, where they gave out free FM converters!

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            And of course, I completely forgot J.P. McCarthy, the king of the morning drive on WJR (and who Dick Purtan, who I mentioned above, always called “P.J. CaMarthy,” pretending to be a bitter rival, though he always had nothing but respect for him. When he died rather suddenly of an ailment which I don’t recall, the day after his passing, WJR honored him by placing all of his stuff including his coffee, in the studio, exactly as he would have had it, and Frank Beckmann (mid-morning guy, former University Of Michigan Football announcer), narrated a memories show; it was quite something. (Beckmann just retired from the UM football broadcasts this year (but still has his show on WJR), and up until maybe eight years ago, called UM games on WJR itself, before they contracted with Michigan State to do their football broadcasts. :-( (Ticked me off, since I could have the game on TV on mute (especially when Mussberger is calling the game) and Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter on the radio; now, there’s no way to receive a UM football broadcast except via XM, as all the Michigan Football Network stations along the Ohio border don’t have the signal strength to reach the Toledo area; ironically, a CLEVELAND station may carry those, but again, not enough oomph to get to my radio.) Before Beckmann was the legendary Bob Ufer, whose exclamations of “Meeeeechiiiigunnnnnnnnn,” and “[t]hat’s all there is, there is no more!!!!!!” at a victory (especially over Ohio State), as well as the horn that he blew on-air at each score, are history which will never be forgotten by those who experienced it, and should be remembered!!)

            Final note: a certain man by the name of Paul W. Smith always wanted to follow in J.P.’s footsteps, and landed his dream job, which is at the top of the heap, as was his predecessor. Just like J.P., Paul W.’s rolodex would be the envy of any plutocrat or politician; he gets the stuff from right and left alike, and everything in between!

  • avatar
    countymountie

    Love the memories. I remember when dad scored a Delco auto search cassette deck with the equalizer for our 88 Cavalier, we were in high cotton. My first new car was a 95 Cavalier Z24. I was upset because it had a CD player instead of a tape deck. That regret lasted about a week! One of my current cars, a 1980 Pontiac Phoenix (first year X car) has a slave cassette player. First owner probably spent good money on that setup. It doesn’t really matter to me anymore, I only listen to one FM station no matter what I drive.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    Mid 1980s. I’m a college kid driving my parents’ 1977 Econoline. Great college car, but 14mpg so my parents had ordered it with 2 gas tanks.

    My buddy and I updated the head unit to a tape deck unit. We were clumsy oafs and broke the radio fuse. Too cheap and lazy to replace it, we just took the seat belt alarm fuse and reused it. Because who really needs the seatbelt buzzer?

    Fast forward a few days I’m tooling along and the motor starts to sputter as the gas runs out. No problem, just reach down bad flip the switch to change gas tanks as I had done millions of times before. Nothing. Couldn’t get it started. Lots of head scratching later had to have it towed to a mechanic who after a lot of his own head scratching figured out that the gas tank switch was electronic and in the same circuit as…the seat belt buzzer. D’oh!

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Regarding older radios: there’s a guy in New England somewhere who will restore old car radios, from tubed units right through the early -80s, non-ETR Delco units. My parents never had FM in their cars (see post above), so the first one, a basic Delco AM/FM stereo in my Dad’s 1983 Regal Custom Sedan was an eye-opener, as was the basic ETR AM/FM cassette unit in his next car, a 1986 Century Limited. Those basic units sounded almost as good as the “premium” stuff in today’s cars!

    Regarding clock-radios: I have a working Radio Shack Chronomatic 248 circa early 1980s on my desk at my job of 20 years; before that, it was a faithful nightstand waker-upper! Actually had someone comment on it last week, and this person could not believe that the clock actually had a sticker stating to “take unit to your nearest R/S for a speedy, inexpensive repair!” Of course, nowadays, if you can get five years out of a cheap Chinese piece of crap with horrible sound, you consider yourself lucky as you toss it in the trash and go $pend $80 on a new one!! (That R/S unit cost a whole $29.95, if memory serves, in its day!) Only real problem with the R/S unit is that the contacts in the volume control are a little wonky, but it could still be pressed back into service with the beeper alarm if needed!


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