Interesting NY Times story...

From: evan <>
Date: Sun Feb 8 12:51:59 2004

>>>>> February 1, 2004, Sunday

Radio Days or High-Tech, It's All the Same


THOSE of you who are still hoping that computers,
cellphones, digital cameras and other modern gadgetry
are passing fads and that we will soon return to the
simpler days of a half-century ago might have been
dismayed with what Phil Vourtsis had on display at the
David Sarnoff Library the other day.

The event was a combination exhibition and
radio-repair clinic, with members of the New Jersey
Antique Radio Club doing the honors. Mr. Vourtsis, the
club's president and the author of ''The Fabulous
Victrola 45,'' had a display related to the dear
departed 45-r.p.m. record that was fascinating and
hilarious, but also depressing.

The hilarity came from a 1949 promotional film in
which an impossibly earnest fellow was extolling the
virtues of this new way to listen to music.
''Distortion-free records!'' he exclaimed. And
indestructible. ''Bend 'em, bounce 'em; nothing

The depressing part was Mr. Vourtsis' sampling of
newspaper articles from the period. It turns out the
innocent little 45 wasn't so innocent after all; it
was part of a war between RCA-Victor (which made many
of its breakthroughs at labs in New Jersey) and
Columbia for the ears of America. The new 45 from RCA
was competing with a seven-inch disc Columbia had just
introduced as well as Columbia's LP's, and all were
different from older-style records - different speeds,
different needles, different players.

''The record-playing public,'' read one account,
''which buys from 200,000,000 to 300,000,000 new disks
a year, is faced with three mutually exclusive methods
of reproducing music from records. Neither of the two
new records can be played on conventional phonographs
or radio-phonographs, nor can either be used on
competing record-playing machines.''

It sounded, in other words, dismayingly like the
technological warfare that bedevils us today: VCR's
vs. assorted types of DVD's, CD's vs. MP3's, Windows
vs. Macs, attachments that won't open, digital cameras
that won't download. Evidently there never really was
a simpler time; products have always tried to push one
another out of the marketplace, and frustrated
consumers have always been left to play catch-up.
''Only today the turnaround on a product is much
faster,'' Mr. Vourtsis said.

His club ( has about 200 members, and
watching them have fun with antique radios and other
ancient technology makes you wonder what people will
be doing a few decades hence with old cellphones.
(Notice how primitive the ones from the 90's already
look?) Lately, for instance, they've been having a
contest to see who can pick up the most distant radio
signal on a vintage receiver. When conditions are
right, noise from Chicago or Canada or Mexico might
squawk through the classic sets.

At the Sarnoff event, in Princeton, the club's experts
ran a repair clinic where people could bring old
radios for free doctoring. Some who brought in sick
sets were fellow hobbyists, but others were hoping to
revive a personal keepsake.

A lot of old radios are being unearthed these days in
New Jersey and everywhere else as the radio-crazy
generation dies off and its offspring inherit attics
full of stuff. Mr. Vourtsis said that at first the
repair clinics were just for club members, but then it
seemed there might be laymen out there in need of
vacuum-tube and soldering-gun assistance.

''It's pretty rewarding when we're able to help them
out because they feel like they've reconnected with
something from their childhood,'' he said.

Certain radios can be worth thousands of dollars, he
said, though many more models were just as
mass-produced as anything today and are worth less
than a first-generation digital camera. Also, some
antique sets might prefer to remain idle. For
instance, someone once brought in an Emerson Catalin
that gave Mr. Vourtsis pause.

''It was the kind of thing where I really didn't want
to get the radio working again because heat from the
radio could damage the cabinet,'' he said, ''and with
the Catalin that's where the value is.''

One other booth from the Sarnoff event is worth
mentioning, what with Valentine's Day not far off. It
was a display of valentines, sheet music and such with
radio themes, from the days when radio was new.
''There's a Wireless Station Down in My Heart,'' was
one song title. A card read, ''Over the radio you can
hear me pine, I want you for my Valentine.''

Apparently, linking romantic sentiments to the
high-tech device of the moment gives them extra
credibility. So here's an assignment for the season:
Use the words iPod, memory stick, mini-DVD and MP3 in
a love poem. Give it to your sweetie. Then duck.
Received on Sun Feb 08 2004 - 12:51:59 GMT

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