The radio waves are empty

MONTPELIER, VT, 1987: I have a strange confession – when I grew up we only had AM/FM radios. No iPods, no iTunes, no YouTube. I grew up with records, 8-tracks, and then, when society became civilized, we had  records and cassettes.

If our parents were affluent enough we might have a boombox.

Boomboxes were silver or black, and had knobs for the radio and there was a door for cassette tapes. That made them multi-media players.

boomboxThey were about a foot high and 3 feet long. If you were a buff teenage boy you could carry them on your shoulder, but if you were a slight teenage girl you would have to haul your radio around on a hand-truck to keg parties.

But, growing up in a rural area, my boombox made me multi-cultural.

Because I learned that radio waves are longer in the dead of night.

My radio had 4-settings, and if I stayed up late enough and picked radio setting number 3, I could get short-wave radio from Germany to me, in Montpelier, Vt. It involved a lot of very careful dialing and moving the box around my bedroom: on shelves, improbably in closets, on the floor, next to metal, away from metal, and once a technique involving Saran Wrap and clear nail polish, but I could get distant radio signals in languages that weren’t Canadian. They were Deutsch. I couldn’t understand any of the music, or news, but I didn’t care that I couldn’t understand the content.

The German disc-jockeys didn’t give a shit about the fact that my boyfriend and I had just broken up, which was why I was awake in the first place. They were still dealing with a wall dividing their country. I felt like I was being chastised for crying at 3 a.m.

But, I loved the fact that I could hear a disc-jockey on a different continent.

It made me feel like I was singing harmony on the David Bowie song, Heroes.

A couple of months ago my husband and I were at our friend Mitch’s house, and we had a few cocktails and somehow we started talking about the “midnight radio.” Mitch shyly/proudly went into his basement and came back upstairs with his 1980s boombox.

He used to do the same thing when he was a kid. But, Mitch never got rid of his boombox. His reason was that “you never know when you might need to hear some German short-wave radio.”

Apparently Germany was the dominant country in the short-wave-radio-wars.

My husband was indulgent while Mitch and I sat down on the floor and squabbled like drunken-siblings over which direction the antennae should point toward to pick up Europe, and what frequency would work the best.

We couldn’t find it.

It made me think that maybe we grew out of the real need that we had when we were in high school to be somewhere else. Our ear-drums had solidified.

Maybe the German rock station is something that only people under 18 can hear.

About Launie Kettler