Boomers on shared signals yet different wavelengths

So are we baby boomers more like millennials than we think, or less? Seattle boomer Ron Gompertz, author of Life’s Big Zoo, sees similarities amongst the many differences. And they all come together through music.

Back when TV sets were made in the Midwest and Dad rented a rotary phone from Ma Bell, boomers had “time to play B-sides” and could not have imagined someday calling them i-Tunes.

If you were a kid in the Sixties, you probably had a transistor radio. Sound quality was beneath low-fidelity, but it didn’t matter. That cheap earplug and tinny sound from the AM radio was our window to the rapidly changing world outside.

Did your parents ever tell you to pay attention and stop listening to that flippin’ radio? Did you ever smuggle it into a school assembly or house of worship to monitor the World Series? Did you put your tongue to the battery leads just for a jolt?

Wolfman Jack, legendary radio disc jockey, appeared in the film, America Graffiti.

I hid my transistor radio under the pillow to listen to tunes (and I don’t mean “iTunes,” just tunes), talk, and ballgames after bedtime. I fell asleep to Wolfman Jack howling into the night, selling voodoo lotion, back beat commotion and hints of disorder from south of the border. The hit parade was filled with songs about cars, school, surfing, and girls. Songs about peace, freedom, and a strange new world.

There was no escaping the big boss beat. Not then, not now.

Walk into a store today and ask a 20-something for a “transistor battery.” They might figure out what you mean, but you’ll be more successful and look like less of a weird old fool if you ask for a “9-volt” or “smoke alarm” battery. You might get an ironic stare there at the cash register, but as soon as that helpful millennial takes a break, fires up Spotify and pops in the ear buds, you can see that we’re not all that different. Hippies and hipsters share the same prefix.

It seems like ages ago, but do you remember those first iPod ads with a dancing silhouette wired to a pair of white earbuds? The iPod sound quality was just as bad as our old transistor radios but it didn’t matter. It’s about freedom, not fidelity. The transistor radio, the Walkman, the boom box, the iPod, all appealed to what must be a genetic craving to personalize our world as we wander through it.

Ron Gompertz … kickin’ back.

We still have our own portable rhythms, personal portals that provide life’s soundtrack. We might not have predicted that our transistor radios would morph into smartphones, but it’s not hard to see that “the song remains the same.”

Music makes us human. It’s the universal language. Our need for rhythm, rhyme, and harmony may shift between generations and genres, but it still has the power to unite us.

Next time you feel the urge to criticize a kid who seems checked out behind a pair of ear buds, remember that you were that kid once. We may be on different wavelengths but we’re all searching for static-free signals in this noisy world.

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13 Comments

  1. Nice piece, Ron. I hesitate to admit that I still have a transistor radio. I don’t listen to music on it anymore, but sometimes on a rare perfect summer night I’ll take it into the backyard to listen to the Yankee game. Why? I’m not sure; it just feels right.

  2. Very nicely written. I still remember (in western PA) waiting for night so I could tune the radio to WABC/WNBC and listen to Cousin Brucie and The Wolfman.
    But really? Wired earbuds?? Now that’s yesterday…

  3. As a CBS Network News correspondent years ago, I did a story about Wolfman Jack when he moved his show to WNBC, the powerful NBC flagship station in New York. He had a clever schtick in his on-air performance, a certain rhythm in his gravely voice.
    That time was a year or so after a former CBS News cameraman filmed American Graffiti for George Lucas in Petaluma, CA. I always felt that American Graffiti would not have worked as a motion picture story without the Wolfman.
    The Wolfman didn’t last long in New York. He was more of a West Coast legend and phenomenon. One thing he told me was that Lucas paid him $50,000 for his appearance in American Graffiti but as the movie grew in popularity and earned millions, Lucas would randomly send the Wolfman checks for much more money.

  4. yes, i remember my transistor radio.
    the ball games.w-a Beatle c with Cousin Brucie and not to leave out “jean shepherd on wor.new york and don’t forget our earbuds had only 1 ear!
    thanks for the post.

  5. It was Ba-Ba-Baran under the pillow in fifth grade (’65?). World series? Yes, eighth grade on a multi-band radio with SW that often could only reliably get WWV time transmissions (oh how I waited for the clock to hit the top of the hour just to get the voice that would relieve me from 59 minutes of interminable tone!), but hey – it served it’s purpose for the last game of the series (or wait…..was that the Indy 500?). Whatever.

  6. Groovy, as always, Ron! Carole King wrote in her memoir “A Natural Woman” that we should always be open to current music, no matter how attached we were/are to the classic (and the BEST) rock that defined us.

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