Bill Rogers and the “Lost Radio”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Rogers, for the following guest post:

“Lost Radio”

by Bill Rogers

When I was ten years old I lost my first wristwatch and my first radio. I think I have been trying to get them back ever since.

It was all part of a rather catastrophic family vacation trip around the Canadian side of Lake Huron, Port Huron across to Sarnia and then up around the shores of Georgian Bay all the way to Sault Sainte Marie and points north.

We had planned to go on around the north shore of Lake Superior too. We drove north to Wawa and saw the Goose statue. Then we headed north from there.

This was a long, long time ago, so I may misremember. But as I recall it, the Goose memorialized the completion of the Trans Canada Highway, and once past it you were really getting into the back end of beyond.

Not far past the Goose we came to what looked like a tollbooth, which surprised us. We hadn’t been aware there were any tolls along the Trans Canada. Dad pulled up and stopped.

“Hello,” the uniformed officer inside said. “Where ya going?”

“On around Superior.”

“Good. When do you expect to get to Thunder Bay?”

Dad was curious. “Why do you need to know?”

“Oh, for your own safety. So we know to send out a search if you don’t make it.”

Dad looked around and back at all of us. “I think we should head back instead.”

It was a wise choice. It had been a fun trip but it had a few challenges, so to speak.

We were five people in a white 1965 Dodge Coronet 440 pulling an old travel trailer we’d borrowed from one of my cousins. The Dodge was a comfortable car- it had an add-on air conditioning unit that occupied a good chunk of the space under the dashboard, and a radio (AM only of course) that worked well, and these were great luxuries at the time.

Dad had bought it used from his School District after it had served for a good while as a driver’s education car. First call on surplus vehicles was one of the benefits of working for the school district, but I don’t think being hammered by all those would-be new drivers had done the Dodge any good.

We’d borrowed the trailer. It was a heavy thing. The Dodge strained to pull it even though the car had a big V-8 engine. The trailer wasn’t big either. I remember wood paneling and too-small windows that kind of opened to let the inside heat and outside heat mingle when you stopped for the night and tried to sleep. Dad grumbled that the trailer weighed twice as much as a newer one would have.

Having borrowed a trailer to use one time only, Dad hadn’t gone big bucks on the trailer hitch. It simply clamped to the back bumper. Somewhere near Sudbury the bumper started to rip off.

That was another reason we wimped out and didn’t go on around Superior. We were behind schedule. The loose bumper had made us lose several travel days.

We’d limped into the nearest campground on Friday and stayed there while Dad wandered around to locate someone to weld the bumper back on. On Monday he did. “Guy said ‘This isn’t strong enough to pull anything heavy, I’d better weld on a couple bars fastening it direct to the frame.’ I told him that was a good idea.”

Along the way we’d seen much beautiful countryside and lots of rock cuts for the highway. Rock cuts impressed me since I was from southern Michigan where actual surface geology is unknown.

We bought a pretty basket of fruit at a farmer’s market and were 30 miles down the road before we found that everything below the top layer was green or rotten.

I had my transistor radio and was listening to it in the back seat. This was my first radio. It was a prized Christmas gift and made my sister jealous. “I was two years older than him before I got a radio,” she sniffed. She kept track of things like that.

My radio was branded “Sportsman.” That meant it came from the local hardware store where they also sold Sportsman brand outdoor gear and Sportsman brand rifles and shotguns.

I have no idea who actually made it. I can’t remember what it looked like. I do remember it had a Genuine Leather case and an earphone for private listening.

It didn’t work well in the back seat of the car, but I could get something if I held the radio up near the window. I listened to the different Canadian radio stations and noticed for the first time that Ontario English sounds just slightly different from my own, in a way that I can’t really describe. The difference is tiny but it is there. In Ontario they do not say “out and about in a boat” as “oot and aboot in a boot” as we on this side of the Lake say they do, but there is the tiniest twist to the end of the vowels in that direction. I can’t do it and I’ve made myself crazy trying.

At one point I picked up a Morse Code transmission at the lower end of the band, obviously a non directional beacon at the upper end of the longwave navigation frequencies. I played it for everyone in the car. They were not impressed. This is the first time that I learned most people aren’t as intrigued by odd radio signals as I am.

But I kept amusing myself with the radio. I borrowed our Province of Ontario official road map. As many road maps did, at the time, it had a listing of some of the more powerful radio stations, by city. That gave me signals to try for. I tried for the nearer ones and even received some of them.

The campground where we were laid up to have the car welded together was in an Ontario Provincial Park. The place was crowded because of some Boy Scouts gathering, but they found a place for us.

We went to the beach and did not feed the seagulls, since we were trying to be polite and proper and a sign said not to. But the gulls impressed me. Somebody must have been feeding them; there was a regular cloud of them.

We came back to find our trailer door pried open and a number of small valuables gone. Among them were my dad’s transistor radio and mine; Dad’s was his constant companion and must have been one of the first. Dad’s cheap wrist watch and my child size, hand-wound Timex watch were gone too.

The most expensive item missing was Dad’s “Palomar” binoculars. (In case you don’t know, the Mount Palomar Observatory contains what was the largest telescope in the world for many years. It is still there, although with creeping streetlights making sky glare all across Southern California I doubt it is able to do as much research as it once did.) Transistor radios were still fairly costly back then, but binoculars cost a fortune.

We reported the theft to the park rangers who didn’t care. Eventually one of them brought the binoculars back. “You left them on a picnic table on the far side of the park, near the Boy Scouts groups,” he said. Which was quite a trick, in that we hadn’t gone to that side of the park. Also he never explained why we would have smeared soap over all the lenses.

But the soap cleaned off easily and caused no permanent harm. My sister still has that set of binoculars. The watches and radios and whatever other small items we lost which (coincidentally, no doubt) could have fit unnoticed in a Boy Scout’s pockets or pack were never seen again, at least by us.

Anyway, after the car was welded back together we continued on our way. We got as far as Wawa. From there we headed back south, crossed the International Bridge and the Mackinaw Bridge, and went home.

The transmission on the Dodge never was quite right after hauling that heavy trailer so far. That contributed to that car’s early demise. (Of course it was the cheaper of the optional automatic transmissions, the two speed model instead of the three speed. The two speed automatic transmissions were always pretty crappy anyway.)

Today my home is crowded with more radios and watches than I know what to do with. Here at my writing desk I have three of each within sight, and there are plenty more here and there around the place.

I think I may have them all because I am trying in vain to get back that Sportsman AM transistor radio and that child-size Timex watch, the first radio and watch I ever had, the ones never saw again and never will. The sorrow of their loss might explain why I have collected so may others. It doesn’t explain the fountain pens, though.

Spread the radio love

14 thoughts on “Bill Rogers and the “Lost Radio”

  1. Dan Warthe

    Wow, my family made much the same trip, in a ’66 Dodge with a 318 and 3 speed torque flite trans, pulling a pop up Scamper that had better ventilation, but moisture condensed on the ceiling and turned to a light rain in the middle of the night. We also planned on circumnavigating Lake Superior, but turned around at Wawa, in my memory it seems that the road went from concrete to dirt. I remember we had breakfast at at a restaurant that served plated sized strawberry pancakes and strawberry milk shakes. Apparently trailer B and E’s are more common than not, and we lost a nice pair of binoculars, a camera my uncle loaned me, and a purse with wallet, cash and ID’s, none of which were ever seen again. On the plus side, it was my first summer with a gosh to real driver’s license and I got a lot of in the driver’s seat experience and my Dad tended to fall asleep at the wheel in short order. Ah the heady days of one’s youth.

  2. Rob A

    Bill, you brought back some great memories of having a transistor radio in the ’60’s. We would go out west every summer and one time, we stopped at a Sinclair gas station and they had transistor radios that looked like a gas pump. I took that radio everywhere. Mine wore out, but my sister’s didn’t. It’s funny, hers seemed different, probably because the dial was not as well used.

    That radio got me into listening to far off AM stations, which got me started on SWL, and then ham radio.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  3. Paul

    Thanks for the memory…reminds me of my little battery powered transistor radio I had when I was 6. Basic and simple little volume and tuning knobs. I remember using it while visiting my grandmother in Glendale, CA. It was 1964 as I remember listening to The Who playing My Generation. My love of radio started there…

  4. Frank Lowry

    I can certainly identify with this, especially about the collection of radios. I had a few when i was in grade school and junior high. Lost them all, too, which is why i collect them now.

  5. TheZ

    I remember my first transistor radio. My father bought it mail order for me & said that it would be for the both of us (I believe $5.95 from the Lafayette Radio Catalog). It had a leather case, and a white earphone that cut out the speaker when plugged in.

    I took it to 2nd grade where it was taken from me by the teacher. I was so upset that she gave it right back to me but told me not to turn it on. I made sure that I got it home that day & kept it there from that point on.

    I have several fountain pens as well along with Zippo lighters, even though I don’t smoke.

  6. Tom G. ABQ

    Bill, thanks for sharing. I love stories of family getaways like this. Even though they didn’t always go as planned they were still a lot of fun.

  7. David L Cardillo

    I owe my love of radio, and shortwave, to the time spent with my grandfather in his sunroom Sunday mornings, listening to his console s/w radio, Italian opera…

    Yes, we always seem to pursue those fond days of yore.

  8. Richard Langley

    “At one point I picked up a Morse Code transmission at the lower end of the band, obviously a non directional beacon at the upper end of the longwave navigation frequencies. I played it for everyone in the car. They were not impressed.”

    That was probably the RCAF beacon “NB” at CFB North Bay, Ontario. They transmitted on 530 kHz with 500 watts. I still have my QSL card for a report of reception back in 1966 when I was in high school in a suburb of Toronto. CFB North Bay is the headquarters of Canada’s NORAD operations and the site of the no longer used NORAD Underground Complex, a bunker the size of a shopping centre 60 storeys beneath the surface of the Earth. Operations are now conducted above ground.

    At the other end of the then AM dial, the Pan Am beacon RAB in Rabinal, Guatemala, on 1613 kHz with 1000 watts could be heard in the Toronto area. I also have a QSL from them, too.

    1. William J. Rogers Jr.

      Thank you! That seems likely as they were close to our route. I’m glad to find out that my memory is not completely skeejawed and there really was a signal of that type around the frequency I remember.

  9. Jock Elliott

    What a wonderful post!

    Bill, I hope you have written more and that there might be some place where I can read some of those writings.

    1. William J. Rogers Jr.

      Thanks for looking for it! The radio you found wouldn’t be the one I had. This “Sportsman” was a store brand for hardware stores in the US, maybe True Value Hardware. They wouldn’t have gotten ahold of a radio made in Amsterdam. Also I seem to remember my radio was a horizontal format, but maybe that was my dad’s.

      Considering that my dad’s transistor radio was one I remember him having before a family move that must have been in about 1960 or 1961 (because it was before I entered school), Dad’s radio must have been a very early model. I’m sure it would be of interest to the people here if I still had it or could identify it. Mine was from after Japan made transistor radios relatively affordable. Many of them were surprisingly good though!


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