When I was twelve, my mother, who claimed she had no luck in contests, won a transistor radio in a raffle and gave it to me. This was a fancy model. With AM, FM, and shortwave bands, a folding antenna, an earphone jack, and a lighted dial, it was perfect for tuning in to exotic locations at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. Voice of America, BBC, Radio Free Europe, were all within reach. So was Fresno. For some reason, I took a shine to a radio evangelist who came on the air every Sunday night at 10:00 from a station in Fresno.
I don’t remember exactly why I liked him. Perhaps because he was livelier than the minister at the family church – “Can I get a Halleluljah?” At the same time, he delivered comforting messages. One night he explained why scripture promised there would not be a nuclear holocaust. This was a timely message during the Cuban missile crisis. The guy up the street was digging a fallout shelter in his front yard. At school we had hydrogen bomb drills (get under your desk and cover your head), but I took it all with calm indulgence. The worst was not going to happen. I had it on good authority – the man of God in Fresno guaranteed it.
I spent the next six years deeply engaged with radio. I got my ham license and was active until I went off to college. Half a century ago it shrank time and space like the internet does for us now. I thought of that radio recently when I noticed myself scrolling through international news on my smart phone. I’ve always loved my gadgets, but I realized the phone lacks the magic of distant stations coming in through the static at night on the glowing radio dial. It also lacks the assurance I found on that Fresno station on Sunday nights. Nowadays, most of the people quoting scripture are scary, and for all we can find online, it’s hard to find a convincing voice saying everything will be all right.