Were Boomers “With” or “Without”?

As we all age, it’s interesting to note how other generations perceive us and our earlier years. For example, boomers had grandparents who were born in the late 1800s, or early 1900s. They grew up in a time when horses and wagons were commonplace, yet many of them lived to see a man walk on the moon. Now the same types of historical references are being said about the Boomer Generation.

For Mister Boomer, it’s hard to imagine that there are now TWO generations born that never knew a world without the internet. Mister B has had some nostalgic fun through the years reminding readers of the Way We Were compared to the Way It Is. Boomers, as we know, did not have internet, cell phones, instant messaging, social media or even personal computers in their heyday. What we did have was our lives in the timeline of history. So, were we a generation “without”? How can you miss something you may have never even imagined?

The Boomer Generation is often termed the TV generation, because we were the first to grow up with television. It’s probably just as hard for boomers to imagine a world without television as it is now for kids to wonder about a world without cell phones. They may find the whole notion to be post-industrial primitive, but it was everyday life for us. Wall phones and phone booths were our conveniences, modern marvels our grandparents did not have.

Commonplace objects are not immune to the march of progress, either. In Mister Boomer’s household, paper towels weren’t used until the late 1960s. Paper towels have been available to consumers since the 1920s, but their use wasn’t a part of Mister B’s childhood. Rags made from old clothing or bed linens were stored in a container in the basement for any and all purposes, from mopping floors to cleaning paint brushes; dusting furniture to polishing the car. In the kitchen, cloth towels were used for everyday spills and the like that today, people think nothing of tearing off a paper towel to handle (the quicker picker-upper!). Cloths and rags were washed and reused. There was not a dryer in Mister Boomer’s house until the 1960s, either. Outdoor clotheslines did the job.

To ask which is better is not the right question. Each has its place in history. Likewise, it seems prudent that we of the Boomer Generation not malign those younger than us for having modern conveniences and communications that we did not. As Bob Dylan so aptly reminded our parents, Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. (The Times They Are a-Changin’, 1964)

Like our ancestors, boomers adapted quickly to technological changes in their lives. It appears humans are hard-wired to both invent ways of improving their surroundings, and master the tools and resources they create. Boomers will recall when the move to home videotape meant helping a parent set up a VCR machine so it didn’t constantly blink 12:00. Now, boomers have embraced social media, according to some sources, more than any other generation.

Nonetheless, the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. How can I be sure? In a world that’s constantly changing? … is what the Young Rascals sang to us (How Can I Be Sure, 1967). Ok, the song wasn’t about technology, but romance. Still, the phrase seems appropriate in a time when people on Earth control helicopters flying over the Martian surface, and NFTs are a BFD.

Where does that leave boomers? If the past fifty years is any indicator, the world will be vastly different in the coming decades. Our generation’s history proves we’re adaptive beyond belief. Maybe we’ll adapt enough to learn to ask for help when we need it. Or maybe we’ll even feel comfortable enough to ask for one of those autonomous vehicles to drive us to the CVS to pick up a prescription.

What about you, boomers? Did you buy a hoverboard to make up for your childhood, deprived of even a skateboard? Are you tech savvy or tech-challenged? And does that matter to you at this stage of your life?

Boomers Listened to Transistor Radios

The Boomer Era is synonymous with the age of modern electronics. Television, though made available to the public in the 1920s, didn’t gain a foothold into the majority of American households until the 1950s. Now boomers are known as the first TV generation. Washers were hand-crank affairs for many early-day boomer families (including Mister Boomer’s), and dryers, for most, consisted of a clothesline in the backyard. By the 1960s, the majority of U.S. households had washers and dryers.

However, it can be argued that the first real modern electronic marvel that helped to shape the Boomer Generation was the portable transistor radio. Never before did a generation have the luxury of carrying a portable device that, with the help of batteries, could tune into radio stations and listen to music wherever they went. If they were only heading to their bedrooms, a single earpiece plugged into the device could transmit the sound directly to one person, without disturbing the whole family.

For the first two decades in the life of radio technology, vacuum tubes were part of the construction. The invention of the transistor in 1947 made a change possible. However, like many new technologies, manufacturing concerns and marketability played a role in the public release of a radio that made use of transistors. In fact, the big radio companies of the day — RCA, Philco, Sylvania and others — passed on adopting it. They just didn’t see the vision of what it could be. A fledgling company out of Indianapolis, Regency Electronics, was the first to grab the opportunity. Then CEO, Ed Tudor, was banking on what he perceived to be a need for quick and portable emergency communications during the Cold War. Regency released the first commercial transistor radio on October 18, 1954. Not only was there no need for tubes, the transistor radio could fit in your hand. Powered by batteries, it was the first truly portable radio.

The original model was called the Regency TR-1. It came in a plastic case available in assorted colors, and cost $49.95, quite a sum of money in the 1950s. What’s more, an optional leather case added $3.95 and the earphone, for personal listening, added another $7.50. Regency’s radio was first marketed to adults, but it was teens who saw it as being tailor-made for them.

The birth of rock and roll, and the subsequent increase of the playing of this “teen” music on radio, was a boon to the transistor radio industry. Within a year, other manufacturers jumped in to make their own models and by the end of the decade, dozens of brands, including many made in Japan, poured into the market, driving the cost down to an affordable option for middle class families. Some pop historians surmise neither rock and roll nor the transistor radio would have survived without the other. Certainly we see that they were mutually beneficial to each other.

Mister Boomer’s foray into the world of transistor radios came about in 1960. His father gave transistor radios to Mister B and Brother Boomer after receiving them as gifts at a golf banquet. (Read Mister Boomer’s recollection: Boomers Strike Solid Gold.) At the time, the Boomer family didn’t own a record player, and the only radio in the house was kept in the kitchen. The Boomer brothers shared a bedroom, and would listen to local pop music stations while doing their homework. They would trade off using each other’s transistor radio to extend the battery life. Mister Boomers recalls the timing very clearly because he remembers one day working on a model car with his transistor radio sitting nearby, the radio station playing Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl. By 1964, Mister Boomer’s aunt gave the family a hand-me-down record player, and the radio became less important. Within the next few years, Mr. B and his siblings would get their driver licenses and purchase cheap cars. Then the car radio became more important than a portable transistor radio.

How about you, boomers? When did you first acquire a portable transistor radio?