Made in Japan

13 07 2013
The static machine

The static machine

I got my first transistor radio in 1963. It was a small AM radio which was made in Japan. It was also a piece of crap that would pick up only two stations, depending on which room in the house I was in. In all honesty, I’m sure I could have picked up more stations had there been more than two AM stations in town. Nonetheless, this tiny collection of transistors, wires, diodes and doo-dads was a technological miracle. Somehow the super geeks at Bell Laboratories managed to take the radio and shrink it down to a plastic box small enough to fit into your shirt pocket, but best of all was its portability. Just as I was discovering popular music, I could leave the house and take Elvis and the Beach Boys along with me. Gone was the copper umbilical that tied me to Carolina Power and Light Company. Now, I was dependent on a small rectangular 9-volt battery.

Sounds Fine to Me!

I believe it was this early experience with my transistor radio that ruined my ear. By that I mean I have no ear for sound quality. I now enjoy XM radio in the car but before that, I could listen to a distant radio station until it faded into static shrouded oblivion. With my tiny transistor radio, even on a good day, there was static playing in the background whenever I tuned in the music. There was no crystal clear XM Radio-like sound that we have today. To this day, I can listen to music and am not annoyed by the static. I’m not sure which it is that bugs my wife more- hearing static or the fact I can listen to static and subconsciously filter it out.

Rudy Vallee

Rudy Vallee

What was nearly as bad as the static was the tinny sound squeaking from that 1 ½ inch speaker. It sounded like Rudy Vallee singing inside a sewer. I know, I know…who is Rudy Vallee? Some of you will remember him while others have never heard the name.  Rudy Vallee was a crooner from the 1930s who was known for singing through a megaphone. He sounded a lot like a two dollar transistor radio. I always figured that the poor sound quality was as good as it got. I didn’t realize there were better quality radios out there that allowed you to hear every note. I accepted that sound as normal. Besides, I heard the same scratchy sounds whenever I would play a record on the stereo.

It Came from Japan, It Must be Junk

Another thing, back in 1963 the term, “Made in Japan” had negative connotations because everything that came from Japan, with the lone exception of Kyu Sakamoto who had a hit song that same year with Sukiyaki, was crap.  Somewhere along the way, I guess the Japanese realized we no longer wanted their junk so they made some major improvements in quality and earned a reputation for making good stuff. That’s why every manufacturer in America is trying to copy the Toyota production system. Now all the good stuff comes from Japan. Look at your Ginsu knives. If you have a set of Ginsu knives, you can cut open aluminum cans or slice a tomato paper-thin. All you need to do now is find a use for paper-thin tomatoes and sliced aluminum cans so you can justify buying them.

"That's not a knife...that's knife."

“That’s not a knife…that’s knife.”




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