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Vintage darkroom radio goes silent

When I answered the telephone, chuckling Salisbury Post photographer Jon Lakey said, “Do you remember that old darkroom radio up here at the Post?”
“Yes, of course,” I answered, thinking this was a joke.
Jon continued, laughing with every word, “Well, it has ceased to speak. You can jiggle the button and get some popping noise, but it doesn’t speak anymore.” He paused.
“Do you want it for your museum?”
“No,” was my first reply. Then it occurred to me that I could write a column about that radio and my memories of the late Raymond Austin Jr., who listened to that radio all the time.
So I got the old 1970s Sony TFM 7150 W 2 Band Radio with 10 transistors.
I searched eBay and found that the old radio would be worth about $20 if it would play again. We didn’t pay that much for the radio new. Junior Austin, James Barringer and I split the cost of the radio three ways. I don’t think it cost more than $12-$15 in the mid-1970s.

Junior worked in the darkroom as a technician when we used trays of chemicals to print black and white photos. Junior called himself “the head darkroom technician,” and since he was the only one, that was a good enough title for him.
He listened to all the old country music he could pick up on the radio. He had added a long black mark on the radio dial for his favorite local AM station and one for his favorite FM station. He listened to Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Roy Acuff and Patsy Cline music — all the music that is called “country classics” today. When he was listening, the music was not considered classic yet.
We spent countless hours in the dim red light of the darkroom listening to the music and local ball games while we worked developing film and printing photos in the smelly chemicals used in producing the newspaper’s photos.
Junior was a wonderful man who had the misfortune of having polio when he was 3 or 4 years old. He was confined to a wheelchair, but he had the most positive outlook on life of any person I have ever known. Working with him always provided funny stories and happenings every day.
One day the spray head came off the water line while Junior was using it. He was shouting for help as the water sprayed all over him and the film room. “That hose was standing up straight and dancing around like a cobra snake while it wet me,” he said.

Listening to and memorizing the commercials on the radio, he often quoted the lyrics while picking with anyone who was around. As I entered the room one day, he said, “Do you have itching, burning, or are you chafed?” Both of us laughed while he explained what lotion to use to treat the condition.
The local radio station had a game going at Thanksgiving called “Turkey Gobble” or something like that. One day they called Junior with the question of the day. The questions were usually something like, “What color was the red shirt the man was wearing?” The catch to the fun was that they didn’t give you time to answer, so you almost always failed to answer.

Junior had listened for weeks and just could not understand why no one ever answered the questions. He talked about how dumb people were to not get the answer. On the day the station called him, of course, he missed the answer. They didn’t use a buzzer when your time was up. They used a loud “Gobble, gobble, gobble” to really make you feel foolish.
I picked at him about missing the Turkey Gobble question. The conversation between Junior and me went something like this.
“I thought you could answer all the questions, Junior.”
“I know Hinshaw, I know.”
“You were representing the Salisbury Post and the photo staff, and you messed up. We are so embarrassed. The whole county was listening to you get gobble, gobble, gobbled.”
“I know Hinshaw. I couldn’t get the words out. I think I got nervous.”
“How could you get nervous, you weren’t on the radio more than 30 seconds and the turkey had gobbled on you.”
“I know Hinshaw, it did, gobble, gobble, gobble while I just sat here.”
So while the old vintage Sony radio finally gave up after 35 or so years, it will gobble, gobble no more. It has “ceased to speak.” I still have fond memories and stories of the little man who listened to that radio every day even if he wasn’t very good at the Turkey Gobble game.

Wayne Hinshaw is a photojournalist living in Rowan County.

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