Thursday, 5 September 2013

Ghetto blaster: Takes a licking…

It was by far the best Christmas present ever – or at least the one I used the most out of all of them. It came the Christmas of 1984, and still sits in my apartment to this day. It was my first, and only, ghetto blaster.

Coveting another man’s ghetto blaster
One of my closest friends was my friend Mat, who was also my neighbour and the one I sat with for years on the school bus, even when we went to different schools.

One day, I was over at his place and he was playing some music. At first I thought it was his parents’ stereo. But the music is too current, I thought. So I asked him where it was coming from. He took me to this machine, shiny and new, from Sears. He told me he just got it and how much it cost.

What struck me most was the songs he was playing. He had recorded all of them off the radio. Up to that point, I had this old recorder that had been part of my brother's first stereo system. It had a microphone I had to use to tape anything, which made it easier to tape off TV. Still, it was old and getting worn out.

Christmas time
The first tape I ever bought,
"An Innocent Man" by Billy Joel.
I told my mom about it too. The next time we were in Lethbridge to go shopping, I found the exact same ghetto blaster Mat had and showed my mom. Low and behold, come Christmas time, which was just a few weeks after that, the ghetto blaster appeared under my tree.

Suddenly, the musical world opened up wide to me. First thing I got, with Mat's advice, were some blank audio tapes. He bought these chromium dioxide jobs from Radio Shack, so I followed suit. Eventually, my brother advised me to but tapes in a box of 12, because it was cheaper. That's when I discovered TDK, which still litters my tape collection.

The ghetto also had synchro-dubbing, another piece of state-of-the art '80s technology. It allowed you to record music from one tape to another. It was synchronized so if you hit pause on the recording tape deck, they both stopped, hence the synchro moniker.

Let the music play
Initially, I too taped songs off the radio. A week after Christmas, LA-107 FM spent all of New Year's Day counting down the top 100 albums of 1984, so I went crazy taping stuff. I had to juggle between watching the Orange Bowl and taping, so I did not get as much music as I wanted.

Shortly after, I bought "Sports" by
Huey Lewis and the News, I tape I
fell in love with the summer of 1984
listening to it while I cruised the
streets of Brooks with my cousin Fred.
"No Jacket Required" by Phil Collins,
the second tape I ever bought.
Not too much after, I started buying tapes. My first purchase was "An Innocent Man" by Billy Joel. My junior high buddy Shawn had bought it, but got into heavy metal and spurned the piano man. Consequently, he sold me that tape, virtually unplayed, for $9. Pretty soon, I started checking out the music sections of stores. As frugal as I have always been, I started with the bargain bin at Eaton's.

There was stuff that I really wanted to hear too though. That previous summer, I'd spent a couple weeks in Brooks with my cousins. One of them, Fred, turned me on to Huey Lewis and the News, and their hit album, "Sports". When I returned home, Phil Collins released his long-awaited third solo album, entitled, "No Jacket Required". In a spending spree unparallelled to that point, I bought both "No Jacket Required" and "Sports" straight off the rack.
And the final tape in my initial buying
spree, a little known greatest hits
collection by Chicago entitled,
"If You Leave Me Now".

That was followed up not too much later by a purchase out of the Eaton's bargain bin. It was a Chicago greatest hits compilation entitled, "If You Leave Me Now".

Eventually, I joined Columbia House and my tape collection doubled and tripled over night.

Over the next couple years, I also continued to tape music off the radio, most notably album highlights on LA-107, like the one of the band Boston and their third album, "The Third Stage".

On the road
Eventually, it was time to leave home, so I took that ghetto blaster to Kelsey Hall, and the University of Alberta. That machine followed me everywhere thereafter. I would use it as a student. I got a summer job painting res rooms, and the ghetto blaster was there to supply the music that helped pass the time. It came with me when I left res, moved into Garneau walk-ups, then my one-bedroom apartment in Colorado Plaza, off to Vermilion and Lakeland College, back to my bachelor's apartment in Elmtree Manor in Edmonton, then back to Lethbridge when I moved home. I went to college, and even used that now 15-year-old machine for a simulated radio commercial for a class project. I took it to Fort Macleod then up to Claresholm. Ultimately, one of the speakers failed, so I had to retire it to my closet.

Nevertheless, without that ghetto blaster, I am not sure I would have had the amazing musical experience I had throughout the '80s and beyond.

It was so durable, it should have been made by Timex, because that ghetto blaster took a licking, and just kept on ticking.

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