The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Car Radios, Moonlight, Powerglide Love

Remember those nights when you were young and cruisin' around with your buds, telling bad jokes, talking about girls, or listening to the car radio? If you were young in the '50s you might have cruised around in a car like this '55 Pontiac.

If you were lucky, it was your Dad's car and you were behind the wheel. If you weren't so lucky you would be stuck in the back seat. Not cool. Better to be upfront, riding shotgun. One of the duties of the shotgun guy was to keep the radio on a good station with a good disc jockey.

You had to be quick and adept with your fingers. Fast with the chrome push buttons. And smooth with a paper napkin before pushing the button or turning the knob to make sure you removed all the french fry grease from your fingers. You wouldn't want your finger to slip and punch up some stodgy old big band instead of WMAK's Wayne the Brain, would you?
The radio probably seemed like such a natural part of the car that you never thought about it at all unless it was busted.

But radios weren't always in cars. Cars had been on American roads for almost 30 years before anyone thought, hey, it might be a good idea to put a radio in that Ford. The guys and gals might like it.

I guess we can thank the music gods that somebody did think of putting a radio in a car. Or maybe it was Cupid who did the inspiring. From Jim's Antique Radio Museum site:

One evening in 1929 two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of QuincyIllinois, to watch the sunset.  It was a romantic night to be sure, but one of the women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car.

That's how it all started. A car. A couple of guys. A couple of gals. A beautiful sunset followed by a moonlit night. And suddenly they realized that what was missing was MUSIC.

If you're interested in cars, music, or industrial history, check out the link to Jim's Antique Radio Museum site and read the rest of the story. It's a quick, easy, and fun read.

What's also interesting is what happened to the two guys (Lear and Wavering) who came up with the idea in the first place. They definitely were not through making technological contributions.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Here's a song Joyce and I heard in Flash's old 1950 Chevy heading back into Pulaski on a moonlit autumn night in 1959. Flash's Chevy was a slushbox powerglide but it had a dang good radio in it. It also had mudflaps and a big old plastic bugknocker attached to the hood ornament.

Unfortunately, there was also a short in the light wiring because on that night the headlights wouldn't turn on. Car ran fine. Radio played. Yet no lights. Like the young rebels we were, Joyce and I drove back into town anyway. The highway was clear as day in that big harvest moon and we didn't meet a single cop, even when we got to the square.

But I didn't complain about the car at all. Not one iota. It was great to just have some wheels. Old Flash was a true buddy who let me borrow his pride and joy for a date with Joyce. I won't ever be able to repay him for that. There ain't enough money in circulation.

We didn't have headlights, but we had moonlight. And Santo and Johnny on the radio with that great sliding steel. A perfect night. Thanks to Lear and Wavering...
Hat tip to Bob Bell for sending me the great Jim's Antique Radio Museum link.


  1. I'd have committed three felonies to have a car in 1959. I was only 14 at the time, though, so it was out of the question.

    I DID follow the link and you're right: a good read. I had no ideer how Motorola got its name prior to reading that.

    I did quite a few turns around the Jr/Sr high school gym(s) to "Sleepwalk," and it remains one of my faves to this day.

  2. Ah, those were the days!
    Remember the "fader" knob for the radio, that put the music in the rear of the car?

  3. Buck, I used the family car ('54 Dodge Royal hemi) up through the first half of my senior year. Only thing was, it didn't have a radio! Also the '48 Chevy I bought in my senior year had a radio but it was busted. Que sera.

  4. Ed, Those were definitely great days. Don't remember the fader knob though, probably because of what I reported to Buck above--Dad's car didn't have a dang radio.

  5. Man, it would be hard to imagine a world where cars were without radio. It just feels like they'd always go together, right? Like butter and toast, or rock and roll. It's definitely quite convenient these days when you can use your smart phones for music and other things, but the old-school ones have a touch of nostalgia in them.