Woster: Isolated with those classic records


With COVID-19 numbers climbing even out here in fly-over South Dakota, I idled away some socially distanced time the other afternoon by trying to get my record player to work.

Record player? You heard me. This is no April fool’s prank. I happened upon some old 33 and one-third rpm vinyl records, and I wanted to play them.

I have some really classic stuff on those dinner-plate sized records — some early Bob Dylan, Dave “Snaker’’ Ray, Buffalo Springfield. I found them while looking for something else. You understand how that goes. You haven’t given one thought to a thing for years, but when you discover it by chance, you simply must get it to play, just to see if it still will. That was me and those old record albums. I found them. I simply had to play them.

To do that, however, I needed a record player. I guess people call them turntables these days. I have one. It was stashed right there near the album cabinet. The turntable doesn’t get a lot of action. It hasn’t been used in years. It’s easier to tune in satellite radio or punch the Deadpod app in my phone or slide a disc into the player in my pickup. Those are all perfectly good ways to listen to music. A real record player spinning real vinyl records, though, is romantic, you know? It’s a return to the days when we gathered in family units in our own homes and entertained ourselves even without a pandemic swirling around the back door.

When I was a kid, being isolated was a way of life. What else was there to do? So we read books and listened to records. When our older son was younger, I remember a conversation he and a friend had about the “quality’’ of the sound on his music player. When I was a kid, we were awed by the simple fact that sound came out of the speaker of a radio or record player. Quality? If we could hear sound, it was quality.


I was 6 or 7 years old when my folks brought home what was called a radio-phonograph. It was a ponderous thing, nearly the size of a feed trough, made of solid wood, built to outlast a generation of most any farm family. It had big speakers hidden behind glossy gold fabric. Between the speakers was a slotted shelf for album storage. Above that was a turntable resting on a tuner that not only carried the sound from the records but also had an AM radio to dial in stations like WNAX far off in Yankton.

We had only a few vinyl albums in those days, big-band stuff by Guy Lombardo’s orchestra or Harry James and his musicians and one or two records featuring piano players doing classical pieces. I listened to the one with “Flight of the Bumblebee’’ on it until I nearly wore the grooves plumb off that platter.

After we moved to town, I had a small record player of my own. I played those 45 rpm discs with the hot new rock and roll songs. The A side usually had the big hit; the B side had anything that happened to be lying around the studio. I’m sure the sound lacked quality, but, again, we could hear the music and words. That was what mattered.

Once I fixed the belt on the turntable of that player by snipping a little piece out and gluing the two ends back together. It worked well enough, so the other day I figured I could fix the turntable we have now. I fiddled with the drive. I messed with the needle. I jiggled the tone arm. I tapped the electric plug with a screwdriver. Then I did each of those things again, tapping more firmly. I traced the wiring from the needle to where it disappeared into the turntable. I said a little prayer, read online advice, meditated some and then glared threateningly at the turntable for a while. Nothing worked.

I’m no quitter. I’ll give it another go on another day. Maybe I just need to tap harder on that plug.

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