Finding A 'Radio That Is Just A Radio' In The Digital Age World Radio Day was created to celebrate the medium's ability to reach all corners of the globe, due to its affordability and portability. But how common are radios that still fit that description?
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Finding A 'Radio That Is Just A Radio' In The Digital Age

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Finding A 'Radio That Is Just A Radio' In The Digital Age

Finding A 'Radio That Is Just A Radio' In The Digital Age

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

United Nations has declared today World Radio Day, a chance to celebrate radio's ability to bring people together. But we wondered, in this digital age, can you still buy a simple, cheap radio - a radio that's, well, just a radio? We sent MORNING EDITION producers Barry Gordemer and Jessica Pupovac off on a radio scavenger hunt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU REMEMBER ROCK AND ROLL RADIO?")

RAMONES: (Singing) Rockin' rock and roll radio, let's go.

JESSICA PUPOVAC, BYLINE: Here's our criteria. We want a radio that's inexpensive and portable, small enough to fit in your pocket.

BARRY GORDEMER, BYLINE: And you don't have to plug it into something or connect to anything, so no Internet, no Wi-Fi, no Bluetooth.

PUPOVAC: And finally, it's got to be radio only, no smartphones, no satellite radios, just standard AM/FM.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS RADIO CLASH")

THE CLASH: (Singing) This is radio clash from pirate satellite.

PUPOVAC: We started at a Target in Washington, D.C. Team leader Michael Yost took us to a lonely corner of the electronics department and showed us some boomboxes.

MICHAEL YOST: This is essentially the most basic, generic radio that you're going to get, pretty portable.

PUPOVAC: And cheap, about 20 bucks. But it had a CD player. Remember, we just wanted a radio.

YOST: So if you come right over here, for about $9, you get an alarm clock radio.

PUPOVAC: Can you put batteries in it?

YOST: No. You have to have them plugged into the wall, so you can't really take it on the go.

GORDEMER: Nope, sorry. Remember, our radio has to be portable. Now, here's what Michael Yost really wanted to show us.

YOST: This is a Bose SoundTouch.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOSE SOUNDTOUCH RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bose SoundTouch.

YOST: It's $399.99, and it's almost like being front row at anything you would imagine, a concert.

GORDEMER: Wow, $400 for a radio that's not a radio? You know, we were looking for something a little more retro.

BRIAN BELANGER: This is a 1938 Zenith. It's called a shutter dial because as you flip the switch here, it switches from one shortwave band to the broadcast band.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GORDEMER: That Brian Belanger. He's curator of the National Capital Radio and Television Museum in Bowie, Maryland. The radio he showed us - gorgeous, yes - portable, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PUPOVAC: Our search for a basic pocket radio took us next to Best Buy, where we met radio technician, Azikiwe Seace.

AZIKIWE SEACE: Everybody here calls me Queezy.

PUPOVAC: Queezy showed us some boomboxes the size of my old Lincoln Town Car.

SEACE: So when we get to our smaller radios, they kind of put them over here to the side. Let me see - huh, Georgie?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.

SEACE: Where are, like, the smaller radios? They move those things around a lot. They might be over here as well. Oh, here we go, right here.

PUPOVAC: Queezy found some sporty little AM-FM radios meant for joggers, close to what we wanted, but there was no speaker. You had to plug in headphones.

GORDEMER: But we found exactly what we were looking for across the street at RadioShack, a $14 gray plastic transistor radio. It looks like it came right out of the disco era.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE RADIO")

DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) On the radio, whoa, oh, oh, on the radio.

PUPOVAC: Now, we were happy to find our radio, but just a little worried that it came from RadioShack, a company that just declared bankruptcy. But it's actually pretty easy to find pocket radios, just not in stores. They're all over the Internet, and people are buying them.

BRIAN MARKWALTER: In the U.S., we're spending about $200 million just on traditional radios. Many businesses would love to be turning that kind of revenue year over year very steadily.

PUPOVAC: That's Brian Markwalter of the Consumer Electronics Association. He says about 98 percent of U.S. households have a radio, and that's held steady since the '70s.

MARKWALTER: That means it's, from my perspective, nearly a permanent part of our lives.

GORDEMER: Which is very good news on this World Radio Day for our little plastic transistorized friend. I'm Barry Gordemer.

PUPOVAC: And I'm Jessica Pupovac, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO CLASH")

THE CLASH: (Singing) This is radio clash on pirate satellite, orbiting your living room, cashing in the Bill of Rights.

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