Mar 19, 2015
Ode to a Boombox
I was having breakfast at a restaurant near my place and Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, played on the radio. My mind went to the Brat Pack, Breakfast Club and the boombox I used to record the song off the radio in 1985.
The picture above is of the first boombox I ever owned, RT-SX1, and the beginnings of my customer loyalty to the Toshiba brand. I forgot for which occasion I received it but the memories associated with it are vivid.
My next memory was of summer 1986. The late Robert Palmer had hit #1 with Addicted to Love but for the life of me, I could NEVER record the song from the radio. It was the only song that really eluded me and the heat from the video (!) made it all the more imperative I have it.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I was outside. I believe it was a passing car with the opening bars of the song blasting from the speakers that caused me to run into the house, to my room and to my trusty Toshiba. In the midst of trying to find the channel it MIGHT have been playing on, I realized that I was not prepared to record the song. When I did cue up the tape, I was at the midway mark of the song. As fate would have it, that was the only time I recorded any of Addicted to Love from radio.
I loved that boombox so much that I drew a large-scale version of it for a school project. While completing the project, I imagined the boombox was larger than the Bristol board in front of me and that the little wind produced by the speakers was gale-force. Similar to X-Men 3 Wolverine slowly and steadily approaching the Dark Phoenix, I was the only one that could bravely step to the boombox to turn the tape over. Naturally, the hurricane wind from the speakers was not blowing away any of my schoolmates. They wouldn’t be able to dance to Shalamar if that were the case.
Only those that owned it or know of the model will follow me on this. I heard and knew of mono. I also heard and knew of stereo. My trusty Toshiba allowed me to play music in both and even Stereo Wide! To me as a pre-teen, it meant my songs would be louder and better sounding. In retrospect, it added more mid to the music.
There were 2 faults I had with my trusty boombox. The black door for the cassette player did not properly notify me of how much tape time I had when recording. I would need a flashlight or take the tape out after recording to estimate whether the next hot song on the radio will be recorded in its entirety. Although my need and ability to dub would emerge years later, the next fault was that it was a single cassette player.
What my Toshiba could do, however, is detach so that the speakers can be placed at two different places. Now that was surround sound if I ever heard it.
My Toshiba boombox gave me a means of exploring, developing and appreciating music at that young age. The ability to tape music from the radio seemed out-of-this world great to me and an inexpensive means of having the top songs of the day at my fingertips. At 10 years old or so, I taped nearly everything I could off the radio because those songs formed my musical knowledge and I had nothing else to compare or judge them against.
I’ve seen music formats graduate from vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs to the unseen mp3 in my lifetime. I guess the nostalgia of the 80s, triggered by the Simple Minds song, brought me back to my wonder years. Twenty-something odd years later, I’ve managed to realize the childhood dream of hosting a radio show that incorporates elements from my boombox recording days to modern manipulation of music.
I’m aware there is a boombox culture and I respect those that participate. If I didn’t already have my hands full with trying to make people realize my Suite Delight show is the only solution for radio in Montreal, this blog and dealing with the daily real-to-real, I would have joined the ranks of many seeking Clairtone and Lasonic model music players.