My current music player has two billion transistors, but my
first music player had just six. It was an early transistor radio that I
received as a gift at seven years old and it became an important part of my
young life. I know that it had six transistors because the number was etched on
the nameplate at a time when the number of transistors was a selling point and
a focus of competition among my friends, some of whom, alas, had seven
These early transistor radios were revolutionary in their
day because they transformed the radio from a family experience organized
around a large radio in a family room into a pocket size personal experience
carried around and turned on at will with music playing through a small speaker
or an even smaller single earphone on a very thin wire. These were just fine
for the crackling AM signals that dominated radio at the time.
It is hard to convey fully the excitement of a radio that
could go anywhere and be turned on at any time. For me the most important time
with my radio was bedtime. Like most, I had a standard bedtime even in the
summer when there was no compelling reason to get up at a particular time in
the morning. But, I was allowed (or did I allow myself?) to put the earphone in
my ear after lights out and listen to my
Selecting a program was easy as the little radio had a
limited range so I dialed in the strongest station in the area and listened to
whatever was playing. It turned out to be WBUD-AM 1260 on the dial in Trenton,
New Jersey, and on most summer nights I ended up listening to the George Luthre
Bannister Show or GBS Time! The show was a mix of music I had never heard
anywhere before and a rolling banter with the hosts and guests.
This experience opened a world I had not imagined. Not only
was it amazing to me that people would be awake and talking at a time when I
assumed we were all supposed to be sleeping, but for a little boy living in a
small rural town the music and the talk was a magical experience, an
introduction to a city and a decidedly different life. I was hooked and
listened to countless hours.
It is hard to know the impact of this experience, or if I
would be a different person without it, but if you want to get a feel, just
close your eyes and imagine yourself at age seven in bed on a warm (pre-ac)
summer night wearing short sleeve, short pants pj’s, the sound of crickets
chirping through the screened window, an earphone in one ear as the GBS theme song begins to play
That's how I learned about R&B.
Gary Natriello is the Ruth L. Gottesman Professor in Educational Research and Professor of Sociology and Education in the Department of Human Development at Teachers College, Columbia University. Professor Natriello directs the Gottesman Libraries and is the executive editor of the Teachers College Record.
Professor Natriello is the author of several books, including Schooling Disadvantaged Children: Racing Against Catastrophe, and From Cashbox to Classroom. Recent articles include: Networked Learning and The Adaptive Learning Landscape.
Professor Natriello holds an A.B. in English from Princeton University, an A.M. in Sociology from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Sociology of Education from Stanford University. He has also been a post-doctoral fellow in the NIMH Program in Structurally Induced Social Problems and Mental Health in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.