The thrill of that first car while in our teens and all that followed were fresh on our minds when another craze came along: stereophonics. Our favorite music was played on KJR-AM and other popular AM radio stations in the ‘50s.
A friend was so into his sounds he laid a big speaker from an old radio onto the back seat of his car.
Another friend bought a Chevy convertible from Davies Chevrolet on Pike Street. It had a stackable 45-rpm turntable in the back seat. That was the future — except for the day it sat in the hot sun and turned the 45s into a pile of pancakes drooping over the spindle.
AM was good, but FM was much clearer. Eight-track tape players were introduced and were good until the player ate the tapes.
Amping it up
Madison Park parties were centered on new stacks of super-electronics. True, you could buy AM, FM, phone and TV all in a cabinet from Frederick & Nelson, but if you spent the big bucks, you got button switches, lots of lights and big VU meters with level indicators.
Two companies — ElectroCraft on Seventh Avenue, between Pike and Union streets, and Magnolia Hi-Fi on Northeast 45th Street — became the candy stores of electronic systems for the home. By this time, most people in Madison Park had hi-fi systems.
Len Tweten and his sales staff showed us the different levels of stereo systems. One system featured a stack of electronics with not one, but two big amplifiers. The salesmen played a stereo vinyl record and cranked it up. We moved with the sound as our eyes rolled back and we exclaimed, “Nice, very nice! Sign us up!”
A new amplifier came out that blew the 80- to 100-watt amps out of the water: The Phase Linear amp was a whopping 700 watts. A fellow we knew wanted the best so he bought not one but two. He even put in a dedicated 220-volt line to power this monster. Rumor was when he powered it on, lights in the city dimmed.
The night he debuted his prize, the guests gathered around. He proudly turned the many knobs, switches and VU meters to listen to the sound. Cranking the amps past 70 percent, a slight sound omitted as the tweeters appeared to glow orange. Suddenly, there was a buzzing, crackling sound, followed by a thud. The tweeter centers fell forward onto the carpet. His wife yelled, “Get those off my carpet!”
No one stepped forward to remove the molten-hot metal that, by then, had sunk deep into the thick shag and padding, stopping short of the hardwood floor.
On the bright side, there were now two near-perfect circulars to set cocktails, which had never been possible before in deep shag.
Enhancing the sound
All the new technology required maintenance, so in stepped Tom Askey, with a repair shop called Scientific Radio and TV, which was located a few doors west of where Pharmaca is now. He could fix anything that plugged in, and then some. He even built his own system from scratch.
His claim to fame was erecting TV antenna towers for those who lived behind hills and were anxious to receive the few stations available. Since the TV signal was line of sight, the towers were the only solution.
A doctor acquaintance who had done his homework, had a modest display, but it did boast 6-foot-high Magneplanar speakers, with strips of aluminum that ran vertically inside each tower. He suggested pressing our noses against the speakers and closing our eyes.
He put a vinyl on the turntable, and a woman started singing. When she finished with a long note, she inhaled as if she was right in our faces.
To get the rich sound I desired, I added a pair of expensive headphones to my system. During a party, we listened to tunes, with the speakers turned up. A young lady wearing the headphones sang loudly with the music. I turned off the speakers, and she sang solo to the beat from the phones. The rest of us mouthed the songs as though we were singing along. When she removed the headphones, everyone laughed at her embarrassment at being center stage.
Everything was loud and extraordinary in those days — it was always done to impress. Anything worth hearing was better loud.
Today, we need to turn up the volume to hear anything at all.
RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident.
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