They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My son just brought home a pair of speakers that our neighbor had put out on the curb for garbage. I have to admit I had my eye on them, too.
When I was a kid, speakers were one of the most prized possessions that any of us could find as we followed the vets around our town during the monthly scrap drive, or searched the area behind the American Legion, where most of the stuff was dumped. At one point, long before "surround sound" had become popular, I had at least eight speakers of various sizes hanging from my walls, or strategically placed around my room, all of them hooked up to a huge wooden "stereo set" the size of my mother’s washing machine. I had bought the stereo at J. J. Newberry's with money I had saved from my paper route, and since it was a floor model, the store manager let me have it for $75.
In those days, most speakers were part of a unit similar to my stereo. They weren't separate or plugged into the back of a receiver. Stereo hadn't been invented yet, or if it had, it wasn't something that any of us had heard of, so actually getting to a speaker and pulling it out could be a problem. They were usually encased in a large hardwood cabinet that Superman had glued together and reinforced with wood screws about the size of a railroad spike. More times than not, we had to bring the whole radio home in order to disassemble it, but I remember wading through a pile of old mattresses, broken chairs, and discarded appliances behind the American Legion, with various hand tools poking out of my pockets, just to get at the best prize of all, a 10 inch speaker from an old cabinet that had already been stripped of the radio itself. Not only did I love to hear the deep sound the big speakers made, but I liked to be able to see the way the paper cones vibrated, and I knew that if I ever blew one out, or it stopped working for some reason, I could always take it apart and count on finding a magnet the size of a hockey puck. You couldn't go wrong collecting speakers.
When it became necessary to bring a radio home to take apart, I always plugged it in first to see if it still worked. When I found one that did, I removed it from the cabinet and set it on my desk. The one I remember best had a shoe-box sized metal "chassis," to which everything else was attached. It was old enough even then to be covered with a thin film of dust, but that didn't prevent me from being able to identify the basic parts. It had four or five vacuum tubes sticking up between a couple of transformers and a tuning mechanism, and a cylinder that was about half-an-inch thick, and maybe three inches long, wound with copper wire. I was afraid to touch that part, because the wire was coated with an amber-colored, shellac-like substance that I was sure was meant to protect me from instant electrocution. Otherwise, with the radio plugged in and all the tubes glowing, I pretty much poked around at will with my screwdriver, without knowing what I was doing.
This radio, like most of them at the time, only received AM stations but at night, it was possible to tune into broadcasts from as far away as Detroit and Boston. My bedroom was upstairs, and I had long ago run an "antenna" wire out my window and up to the peak on the side of the house, so after attaching the antenna wire, and hooking up a spare speaker, I was ready to test it out.
There was always a lot of static with the old radios, especially between stations, so I had to be careful to keep the volume down while I played around with the knobs. Actually, there weren't any "knobs," because I had thrown them away with the wooden cabinet and 4 unidentified shafts stuck out of the side of the chassis, but I discovered that this particular radio had two short-wave bands. This might not seem like such a thrill to the average audiophile, but after I got my radio up and running, I was able to tune into "The Dominion Observatory,” located in Victoria, British Columbia. The observatory measured the movement of stars across the sky to define Canadian time, and a series of "blips" (corresponding to each passing second) was broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Toward the end of each minute, an announcer with a British accent would read off the exact time, and the blips would begin again until the next minute was up.
For some reason, being able to tune into the observatory and other places outside of our area was as exciting to me then as the internet is to my son now. I'm not sure what he plans to do with the speakers he found, but I should have told him to look in the attic. I could have saved him the trouble of carrying them home, and put off the day when I'd have to put my own collection out on the curb.