Off the 8’s: A car with a history, but no radio

Editor’s Note: Off the 8’s is a WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share personal stories from their lives.

John Aaron,

WASHINGTON – It may strike you as odd that my car has no radio. But a few weeks ago, in a burst of enthusiasm following months of internal deliberation, I made the decision to rip the radio from its spot below the dashboard, where it had been dangling for the past 15 years or so.

It deserved to go. It was a sorry old aftermarket radio with an aging black plastic face and exposed metal on the sides. It had one knob for tuning, and should have had another for volume. But that knob broke off years ago, leaving an exposed metal shaft for me to turn.

The display lit up in a rusty orange that clashed with the cool green glow of the speedometer. And its plainly visible cassette deck screamed “obsolete.”

Besides, a radio never belonged in that car in the first place. Back in 1951, when the car was built, a “standard manual radio” was an option, but it was declined by the car’s original owner. He did, however, spring for the “39 hour stem wind clock,” which juts out from the metal dash like an engine on the wing of a B-17. No tacked-on radio could compete with that.

To give you some background, 48 years after the car rolled off a Baltimore assembly line, my father and I stumbled across it in a front yard next to the Carlisle, Pa. fairgrounds during one of the site’s major car shows. It didn’t sell that weekend, but we tracked it down and brought it home a few days later.

After getting familiar with its three-speed manual column shifter (otherwise known as a “three-on-the-tree”), I put it into semi-regular use for a couple of years.

By this time, it was far departed from its stock form. A larger inline-six cylinder engine from a 1959 Chevrolet resided under its hood, and it had been painted, lowered and loudened along the way. (WTOP’s Dave Johnson regularly reminds me of the time when I “woke up half of Chevy Chase” while leaving the Comcast SportsNet parking garage.)

Of course, my regular cars do have a radio (set to WTOP, no less), and the old Chevy gets little highway time these days. It has no air conditioning, and as I’ve grown older, I no longer find arriving at my destination with the back of my shirt soaked in sweat and my eyes caked in pollen to be normal or acceptable.

Driving it is still a thrill, but parking it — without the aid of power steering — makes me realize I really need to hit the gym a little harder next time.

And while any enthusiast would prefer to see a car driven as much as possible, making that actually happen can often be a challenge. And so, we do other things to keep ourselves entertained. Even radios are not safe.

John Aaron is a WTOP reporter and anchor.

Follow @JohnAaronWTOP and @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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