I recently got me a new toy.     
     Well, it is not exactly new. My guess is that it is 40 or more years old and is thus out of warranty. But, how much can you expect for $10?     
     My new plaything is a Worldstar Multi-Band Receiver. Not just a radio, mind you. A receiver.     
     It is an ugly, boxy contraption that all but screams, “I was manufactured in the 1970s.” This aged gadget was state-of-the-art when it was new; now it is nothing more than an almost-worthless artifact, a relic of a time when the world wide web was a fanciful concept that existed only in a distant, Buck Rogers-like future.     
     When I saw that old receiver lying on the table at a household auction, I was drawn mysteriously and inexorably to it. As I got closer, it whispered, “Buy me. You know you want to. Never mind the dust and the paint spatters on my case. Just look at all the knobs I have. C’mon, give them a twist. My tuning meter is fluttering just thinking about it.”     
     Who could resist such transistorized sweet talk?     
     The truth is, I have long had a weakness for radio. This day and age, with satellite broadcasting and the 800-pound gorilla of Sirius XM Satellite Radio occupying the airwaves, radio has lost much of its charm. Such was not always the case.     
     Back when I was a teenager, we had a small AM radio in our stanchion barn. We depended on that little box to keep us abreast of the goings-on of the outside world while we milked. We were especially keen to learn if school had been called off due to bad weather. But, winter nights were as enjoyable as any school cancellation.     
     On winter nights, the mercury would plummet as our side of the planet turned its face away from our local star. The sun’s departure allowed the ionosphere – the Heaviside layer, as the Brits like to call it – to balloon outward. Conditions became ripe for large amounts of skip.     
     A person can think of radio skip as a long bank shot on a pool table: the shallower the angle of the bank, the farther the ball will travel before it contacts the next bumper.     
     As we milked our cows on cold winter evenings, I would fiddle with the AM radio, prowling the airwaves, searching for skipping signals. I was seldom disappointed.     
     That little radio would pull in stations from as far away as Little Rock and St. Louis. I frequently locked onto the frequency for WLS in Chicago or KOMA in Oklahoma City. Sometimes, voices steeped in Texas drawls would fade into and out of the ether.     
     That was our world wide web back then. Information from faraway places coursed at the speed of light into our humble 25-cow stanchion barn as the Surge belly buckets chugged and our Holsteins chewed their cud. Outside, the air was deadly cold, the stars were blazing, and steam curled lazily from the barn’s cupola. Inside, by employing the magic contained in our trusty AM radio, we surfed the nation’s airwaves.     
     As soon as I got my new-old radio home, I plugged it in and fired it up. I was pleased to discover that everything works, up to and including its yellowish dial light. After the sun had set, I extended the receiver’s two antennae – top-notch technology back when – and began to fiddle with its constellation of knobs.     
     There are so many choices. There is the CB band (I was hoping that I might hear C.W. McCall, but no luck), the TV band (TV without its picture is actually an improvement) and of course the AM and FM bands. But what interested me most were the shortwave bands.     
     The venerable Worldstar Multi-Band Receiver performed like a champ. I listened to the BBC and eavesdropped on people speaking in French and German. I stumbled across a woman who prattled in rapid-fire Spanish and made frequent use of a mysterious word that sounded like “kooba.” I listened for a spell to the spellbinding dots and dashes of Morse Code.     
     I am now ready for the long cold. Whenever the winter blahs descend upon me and I am underwhelmed by the offerings on TV and overwhelmed by the internet, I will simply extend the antennae of my Worldstar Multi-Band Receiver.     
     And, then I will find a quiet place where I can settle in and pass the evening eavesdropping on the patter of our planet.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.