Take Me Back

My radio is finally finished. What started out as a birthday present is now even more significant. My wife did a great job in finding someone to refinish the case, finding Jeff at Antique Cabinet & Woodshop in Madison, TN. Like many craftsman shops here in the South, there is no website. Yellow pages and recommendations are the main way he gets business. We drove up as a family to pick the chassis up on Easter Saturday and then headed up to Greenbrier to pick up the radio guts from Frank.

This time we shot a video of his shop and him demonstrating the restored radio.

He was in rare form, entertaining both Kymberlee and Evie with new tales of his life, including his musical career. After admiring his album during my first visit, he gifted me a CD of his two albums, Model T and Country Steel. Country Steel downloads can still be found in a few places, but Model T can only be found in used record stores. A quick search on EBay turned up a copy for $20. However, if you’re curious about his ability, you can listen to the album (and download it if you wish) on Soundcloud.

The man is a jewel and you can tell through his conversations that he feels he is near the end of his life. Too much drinking and smoking he says. He is trying to pass on what he knows to younger men, but he admits that there are not that many who want to learn about analog technology. His work and his heritage will live on, though, and I’m glad to have him as part of my resurrected radio.

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It’s a thing of beauty, and I am extremely proud to have it in my house. Even Evie likes to tell her friends about dad’s old radio. However, I told her that in the year it was made there was no such thing as television and people used to gather around the radio for entertainment . Her reaction? “That must be boring.”

But it has taken me back. Back to the world of AM radio, with all of its warmth and static. We have kept the dial on WSM, the iconic radio station that birthed the Grand Ole Opry and championed country music for over 80 years. It is a “clear channel” station, one of the many that can broadcast at 50,000 watts so it could be heard around the country. The dial on my radio reflects that, showing Nashville as the town at 650 kHz.

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I think it is amazing to have that station still around, still sticking to its original format. In fact, it is the only clear channel AM station in the eastern US that is still broadcasting music. The rest have flipped over to news/talk formats. I’ve been listening to it for about a week, and find it interesting that the playlist is decidedly different than its FM call-sign equivalent. When you are listening to AM WSM, you are getting old time country. Easter Sunday morning we were delighted to hear an old Don Francisco tune “He’s Alive”, but this time sung by Dolly Parton. Here’s a clip of it when she sang it for the 1989 CMA awards. You will not find this on other stations!

The last bit of WSM trivia that I’ll share with you is that it was owned for many years by National Life and Accident Insurance Company, creating the call letters WSM from their motto, “We Shield Millions.” You can find this and other fascinating facts of this iconic station on Wikipedia.

So how does it sound? LIsten to this video to catch the WSM call out followed by another classic: Alabama’s She’s Close Enough to Perfect For Me.

This song, in what some people might call a random coincidence, is significant because the song is also my ringtone for my wife, who is close enough to perfect for me. Thanks to her, I have a radio that takes me back to my roots, our nation’s roots, and some of Frank Arnett’s roots. Take me back, please.

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