View Full Version : The Siren and the Radio

October 22nd, 2015, 07:24 AM
A memoir snippet:

About halfway down the long east wall of Grandma's kitchen there was a small shelf.
The shelf held a water tumbler full of pencils, a small pad of paper, and my Aunt
Dolores' small tabletop radio. The radio was a Belmont six-tube superhet, model 636,
manufactured ca. 1938. It had five levers on the front for mechanical preset frequencies.
Fastened to the rear of the white Bakelite case was a spider web loop antenna.

Every morning when Grandma got out of bed, she put on a dressing gown and slippers.
On her way through the kitchen, she turned on that radio. Then she lit a fire in her coal-
burning cook stove. Then, if the weather was cold, she would go into the cellar, give the
furnace grate a shake, toss a couple of shovelfuls of coal inside and open the damper. She
finished dressing while her stove got hot enough to cook breakfast.

The radio played all day. In the morning, Grandma listened to comedy shows like Jack
Benny and Amos and Andy. In the afternoon, she tuned in the soap operas: The Guiding
Light, and As the World Turns, etc.

Another feature of Grandma's kitchen was a small, black plastic box fastened high on the
wall in the southeast corner. The box had a red button labeled START, and a black button
labeled STOP. This was the control box for the fire siren located in the belfry of the town
hall across the street. Every weekday that was not a holiday, Grandma rang that siren one
time at exactly twelve o'clock, noon. This was to let the townspeople and field hands all
over the township know when it was lunchtime. The NBC radio announcer gave her a
time hack at exactly noon.

One day, when I was about five or six years old, I happened to be visiting Grandma when
she asked me, "How would you like to blow the noon whistle for me today?"

"I, uh . . . Well I . . . ummmm"

"Nonsense!" she said, "It'll be fun. I'll tell you what to do." She pulled a high stool into
the corner and stood me on it.

"Now, listen to the radio. When the announcer says it's twelve o'clock, you reach up and
press that red button. Keep pressing until you hear the siren start; then you can let go."
She stood there with me and we listened to the radio. We listened to commercials for
soap, Carter's Little Liver Pills, etc.

Finally, the announcer said, "This is the NBC Radio Network. The time at the tone will
be exactly twelve o'clock, Eastern Standard Time . . .

"Wait! Wait for the tone," Grandma said . . . Wait for it . . .

. . . "BONG!"

"Now! Press the red button! Press it all the way in! Press it! Today! Press it today!"

I mashed the red button as hard as I could and the siren began its upward moan. It
reached the top of its shriek in about five seconds. We were a hundred yards away from it
and inside a large house, yet it seemed to me that that siren was about to howl the world
asunder, and I had ahold of the thing by the ears.

"Ok," she had to shout, "Press the black button all the way in. Hold it in until you hear
the siren start down. Go on! Press it! Press it now!"

I pressed the black button and the siren's pitch began its downward slide.

Whew! It can get kinda scary when you are five or six and have to do such important

Grandma and Aunt Dolores moved away and left the radio behind. I inherited it. The
power cord is dry and brittle, but the last time I plugged it in, the old Belmont sounded as
good as ever.

Abstractor of the Quintessence
Order of the Digital Grail