© 2022
1078x200-header-mic.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fifty years late, my first real stereo

Ralph's "new" turntable and receiver
WAMC
/
Ralph's "new" turntable and receiver

I can’t recall what prompted Ray Graf – the host of Vox Pop, WAMC’s afternoon call in show, news anchor, and resident humorist – to take pity on me. Or more accurately to take pity on the haggard state of my stereophonic life. Perhaps I wrote something about it or just mentioned in passing my futile efforts to get my venerable 1968 KLH Model 11 portable record player repaired.

For those who are unfamiliar with the model, and there’s no good reason why you should be, it produced decent enough sound considering its size. And not just the size of the speakers but the fact that the system folded into something resembling a Samsonite attaché case. I developed a deep affection for it. Unfortunately my wife didn’t, criticizing its sound quality and insisting I turn it down, if not off, in her presence.

I thought it sounded just fine until it grew lethargic in late middle age. It’s amazing how a turntable rotating at just a fraction of a revolution too slow can affect your listening pleasure. And nobody seemed able to fix it, even as they took my money and claimed they had.

Enter Ray, a connoisseur of both music and its acoustical possibilities. Ray thought that it was high time I graduated to an authentic stereo and announced that he knew just the one. He had the Onkyo speakers lying around – “Speakers,” he stated magnanimously, “I collect like pocket lint.” He also had a spare turntable and receiver. He’d bought them for his father-in-law who no longer needed them.

Perhaps a bit of my personal relationship to recorded music in general and rock and roll in particular would be beneficial. Despite the era when I came of age – the late Sixties and early Seventies – I was an outlier. I owned hardly any records. I’d bought a 45 of “Wipeout” by the Surfaris and “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks because I’d heard them played at summer camp in the mid-Sixties. My next purchase was James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” released in 1970.

I can’t really explain why I was so deeply out of step with my generation. But I eventually caught up and came to appreciate its music; to the extent that I now pity my children because they didn’t grow up in the golden era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Donovan, The Mamas and the Papas; the list goes on. I fortuitously also discovered rock n’roll just as vinyl records were being phased out and replaced by CDs. Friends and relatives no longer had use for their LPs and bequeathed them to me. A special shout-out to my cousin George who gifted me Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. I’ve probably played it roughly a thousand times since then.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a respectable record collection. Not just rock but also classical and Broadway cast albums. Ray Graf refused to accept compensation of any sort for his stunning generosity. “This is my sacrifice to the great Hi-Fi gods,” he told me.

I wish I could report that the moment the living room filled with melody was a spiritual event. But it took me the better part of a weekend – make that a week – in fits and starts to hook everything up and produce sound. Now that I have it’s glorious. I’ve finally reached those stereophonic heights that my college dormmates, with their state-of-the-art sound systems, achieved half a century earlier and took as their birthright.

The equipment and its acoustic opportunities – nobody is more thrilled than my long-suffering spouse – also provoked me to edit my motely record collection. That process raised more philosophical questions than I’d anticipated. Here are just a few that I’ve been wrestling with: Do you file classical music under composer or conductor if the conductor is himself a star, such as Leonard Bernstein or Herbert Von Karajan? How many copies of the original cast album of Cabaret, or Court and Spark, for that matter, do I really need?

Should I toss – or rather donate to the Kinderhook Memorial Library’s autumn sale – records that I’ll only play in the unlikely event that we throw a Fifties dance party. I’m thinking of Lester Lanin and His Trio. Or Bossa Nova by Tito Puente. And under what category does President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address go? Or Meet the Staff of Mad, starring “The Editor, the Publisher, And All The Idiots”; the exercise written, produced and directed by Alfred E. Neuman. Pressed on cardboard it must have been included in some dearly departed issue of the humor magazine.

I did cull a few albums only to have my wife pluck them from the donation box. Who knew she was such a fan of Parisian music? One thing’s for certain. I’ll need to start treating my records with more respect, especially those that don’t yet skip or have stereophonically disfiguring scratches. I’m even giving serious consideration to investing in an anti-static cleaning cloth.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content
  • As a lifelong New Yorker I have mixed feelings about riding the subway. You’d have to be a fool not to. Don’t misunderstand me. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has invested lots of money and raised its game in recent years. Some of its stations and hubs – such as the Q line that now runs down Second Avenue, the Fulton Street complex redesigned in the wake of 9/11, and the extension of the 7 line to include the new 34th Street – Hudson Yards station (contemporary art sprinkled all over the place) might almost be described as splendid.
  • You may have gotten one in your mailbox or inbox, too. It’s a flier from the United States Postal Service announcing that June 5th through June 11th is National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I had no idea. I assumed every week was National Dog Bite Awareness Week. I was taught early on that you don’t pet a dog without the owner’s permission and then only after letting the pooch smell your hand.
  • My wife and I agreed that the salmon we bought from Zabar’s in Manhattan and had for dinner Wednesday night was tastier than the salmon we buy locally. There’s not a huge difference between one piece of farm-raised salmon and another – part of that flaky fish’s allure is that it’s predictable, rarely rising far above or falling far below your expectations. But the Zabar’s fish tasted fresher, subtly more flavorful.