Do you remember your first boombox? My first radio was a Panasonic Tape/AM-FM, no CD player yet at the time – I had to hook up my dad’s Discman using the tape adapter to listen to CDs on it. It could survive on 6 C batteries for some amount of time, and best of all, the speakers were detachable. Well, to a point – they still had a wire on them, but you could take the speakers off the main box and have them placed strategically for maximum aural pleasure. The newer boomboxes were coming out though, with CD players, so for Christmas I asked for and received a phat ass Sony boombox. It had everything I wanted: CD player, EQ knobs, Mega Bass (OBVIOUSLY), a fucking remote, and, of course, detachable speakers.
I spent forever and a day with that radio, and had it finely tuned for how I listened to music. Knew the perfect volume level for when my parents are home (2 ⅓) versus home alone (3 ⅔). Knew how far the speakers could reach before the wire was too taut. Knew that having the mid EQ at halfway or lower made stuff sound better. Knew that recording had a little bit of lag, so I had to press record earlier when I was grabbing songs from the radio. I remember playing cds the fuck out on it, knowing cd’s back and forth and memorizing interludes and intros and outros, not even because I wanted to but rather because I just had to. For any music fiend, this relationship is familiar and intimate.
The boombox, as with other technological ephemera of the 80s and 90s, is long gone. A fading memory in a long litany of memories, the radio was replaced by CD players, by MP3 players, by software, by the ongoing change that we still exist in. When it comes to music, it seems our general evolution is towards size and portability – from larger home stereos to personal radios to Walkmans to iPods, we’ve become used to being able to listen to music anywhere and everywhere. All technology becomes obsolete, but with the technological evolution, something more is being forgotten – the memories and experiences associated with the medium.
Boomboxes were another outlet for expression. You could tell a lot about a person’s life by their radio, and not even counting the music pouring out of it. So lovingly placed at the top of drawers and desks, adorned with stickers, used as mantles for toys or coin plates or ash trays. You made sure that your radio’s appearance matched you. I remember all my cousins’ radios, naturally, and they all had their own unique shapes, flair, personality. Now though, I’d be hard pressed to see anything inside my nieces and nephews’ rooms except headphones and bland iPod docks.
The homogenization of hardware is, again, just another advent of our frenetic technological advance, but it’s also made us look elsewhere to show our personality. Instead of radios telling our stories, we’ve got social networks. Who cares what kind of radio you’ve got when you can show your Spotify listening trends right there? We’ve come to a point where the sum of any person’s interests is easily exhibited in a virtual space, unbound by real world limitations like drawer space and power plugs. The notion otherwise seems archaic and obsolete even.
But for the people that know how it was to have a radio, I implore you: keep listening to music off the computer, and remember how you’re listening to it.