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The day Frank's radio came back to life

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The day Frank's radio came back to life

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

Originally published on Halloween

This is a story I heard. Today's an ideal time to tell it to you.

The people who told me this swear that it's true.

The Allisons had an old Fisher console radio that they had bought new a few years after the war—"THE war," as Frank Allison used to call it—World War 2. It picked up regular broadcasts and even FM signals, unusual for that time, and it had a built-in record player. It played 78s, those big, heavy records that spun too fast for you to read the labels.

The Fisher was Frank Allison's proudest possession. He listened to opera and to a new kind of music coming out of England in the '50s, a fast and rollicking kind of sound that helped bring on rock 'n' roll. In the evenings after work, the neighbors could often hear Frank singing a song he kept hearing on the radio: "Oh, the Rock Island Line is a mighty good road, the Rock Island Line is the road to ride. ..."

Frank went out and bought the record. He played it again and again, sang along with it, whistled it and hummed it. They say he was whistling it the very moment that he died of a stroke, in the autumn of 1973, on the last day of October.

Mary couldn't bear to part with Frank's favorite radio, so the Fisher stayed in the family. Nobody played it any more. The Allisons had a modern hi-fi. But Mary kept the Fisher in the corner where Frank had placed it the day he hauled it home.

Ten years ago, on the anniversary of Frank's death, Mary and her grandchildren were baking cookies for Halloween when a strange thing happened. In the other room, by itself, Frank's radio began to play.

It was odd, but explainable. It had always been plugged in—Mary thought Frank would have wanted it that way—and one of the grandchildren might have brushed up against the brown knob on the front.

The radio was playing old songs, from the '50s. Local stations did that all the time.

The announcer gave the weather. The news came on. Somebody was reporting about Vietnam.

"Vietnam?" Mary thought to herself. "I didn't know something was going on there again." And then it happened. A thin, rolling voice began singing a song that Mary could never forget. It was about a railroad.

"Get your ticket at the station for the Rock Island Line," the voice sang.

Mary stared at the Fisher for a long time. Finally, she pulled the plug.

The Fisher is still there, in the same spot, unplugged. Last I heard, Mary had decided to have Frank's old radio taken out tomorrow. She's moving to a nursing home, and nobody wants the Fisher.

She said she was going to plug it in tonight, for one last time, for old times' sake.

And for that song.

You never know.

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