Radio Changed Everything—
It was just over 60 years ago that the transistor radio appeared on earth and changed everything. You could listen to anything, anywhere. Throughout the years, many varieties of handheld radios appeared, like this one, which looks just like the one I had. I remember the day I bought it, from Grant’s Department Store. You could hide out in the school bathroom and listen to sports, or on the beach and listen to Casey Kasem’s Top 40. Heck, you can even get the armed forces, the weather and the police on this magical little box. Most of ’em took C batteries, which weren’t too heavy, so you could carry an extra set in your backpack. It was my personal ticket to the world.
TV Audio; The Best Wavelength of All—
Besides sports and music, this thing deploys one last, very handy wave length… it broadcasts TV audio. Since I’m the only kid with a TV radio on my street, everybody comes over to gather around the radio. And, my street connects to Mayberry! So, we feel like we’re right inside the set, even before we walk over. At Desilu, we can listen to Andy Griffith on all the movie sets, while listening to the actual audio. In other words, we listen to the audio from the very same programs that were filmed on these backlots, in exactly the same spots where the scenes took place.
Now I can kinda experience what we do at MGM, reliving these shows exactly where they were filmed. This backlot has power issues, so I quickly learn to calculate how many hours I’ll get from one set of batteries. Six will give me an entire day of audio selections. KLOS and KMET are separated by a very slight twist of the biggest knob. Turn that knob as far right as it will go and KWEST will filter in.
But somewhere in between the habitual turn of the wrist, if you stopped just short of the usual spot… and then joggle it ever so slightly where you begin to hear the hiss break up… you can hear familiar old voices reaching out from deep space. The whole procedure requires patience to maneuver the signal, slowly reciprocating back and forth. But with the antenna extended as far into the sky as it can reach, if it’s 1PM, you can pull in that famous opening whistle. Channel 11 gives you two afternoon episodes a day, followed by a Ben Hunter matinee. This is a good as TV gets!
I love to get lost on the backlots with just my devices, which include a handheld AM transistor and my instamatic camera. Both are pocket size and easy to run with.
My TV set would be sacrificed if I were being chased—and that is a distinct possibility at any time—so it has its limitations, plus it needs to be plugged in. But, this new king of the road works perfectly for boys on the run, so to speak. I can clutch it like a football and run and climb the fences with one arm (and two feet, of course). I “practice” this all the time.
Another Brick In The Wall—
Since I’m already doing so well in school, I see no reason to go. Public school is really easy. But I make sure I’m in class for important things. Teachers have realized already what the nuns at my old school would have told them… he’s different. But he does good on tests, somehow. I’m sure their conclusion is that he must cheat. But I don’t. I had a good education beat into me; my parents paid good money for it! I had no idea it would work to such an advantage when I walked past the prison-like brick wall and through the steel framed glass doors of this campus, with that half man-half horse Centaur staring down at me. The school logo looks like something that would chase me through the backlots.
My mom enables me with excuse after excuse, while saying “this must stop,” every time! She knows what I do and she is torn, since, she would love to sneak around the backlots, too. So she turns a blind eye and prepares yet another reason why I missed class today. I’m sure the note will have nothing to do with Andy Griffith reruns… only my mom understands me.
The afternoon begins—
Pow, Pow, Pow! I hear Opie coming, and I’m upstairs in what was his bedroom, in the TV series. I recognize immediately what episode this is by the sad music. Opie is muttering “get up, you can fly.” It’s the Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod episode. Those were the names of the three baby birds that Opie rescues after he accidentally kills their mother with his slingshot.
He is filled with so much remorse that he takes care of them… until they get too big. And so he has to set them free.
Here I am, upstairs listening to dialogue that was recorded 13 years ago, while overlooking the same tree and the same yard in which this sad episode was filmed. I cry like a girl every time I watch it. I have friends, who shall remain nameless, who shoot birds on the backlot with their BB guns. I purposely click my gun, or even go as far as to shoot towards the little fella just to scare it away from my target happy friends. But I have to act like I was trying, since I play with older kids and mustn’t act like I have a heart.
I connect with this entire moment and feel Opie’s heartbreak, like it was my own. He has to deal with a devastating situation that he himself created. It’s as if it calls forth all the sadness that I’ve felt in so many situations in my life, where I have ruined something. Even though I haven’t even experienced those situations yet. Because… I’m just a kid, like Opie.
Maybe its because the lesson he learns while having to repair it, is universal and resonates with everyone who has ever caused harm without meaning to. That’s the magic of a show like Andy Griffith… such a meaningful message in one little story. The only difference is, in a sitcom, things get fixed in a half hour. Whereas, in life, sometimes you can fix stuff and sometimes you can’t. Damn, this show just started and I’m all worked up. I’ve seen this episode a million times, but never while sitting across from the actual tree, where the whole bird crisis went down.
After Opie successfully rehabilitates these three little backlot flyers, he sends them upwards and onwards as the camera faces my upstairs bedroom and the tree in front of it. When Andy says “Don’t the trees seem full?” you cheer that final hallelujah moment.
A Reflective Moment on the Porch—
Wow, what an ending, I think to myself. I really can feel the power of this episode. Birds are singing from this exact tree, years later. Living this episode from a reverse angle… that is to say, while trying to match decade-old audio to exact spots where these lines were rehearsed and delivered, is a really fun hobby.
Having this house to myself during the last three years, has provided the opportunity to relive several key moments, on the same front porch that was used in so many episodes, like these:
– I love when Buddy Ebsen teaches the young lad to play hooky and snag gum balls, while Aunt Bee serves him lemon aid. All this, while Andy patches the roof.
– Bill Bixby slowly wins over the small town hospitality, on this very front porch.
– Don Rickles paints this house once… or tried to, anyway.
– Opie gets a black eye while playing football out front here, by a girl, of all things.
I’m in no hurry for this episode to end… I’m just a boy living a dream!
What episode follows?… I hear a car pulling up on my radio audio, and Gomer is being asked for a repair at the filling station. I have this episode already figured out (It’s Man in a Hurry).
What’s my line is quickly solved. It’s very surreal to have these sets, in living color, all around me, while the ancient audio that goes along with it, plays on my radio. It makes it more real than watching it on TV.
What is interesting is that I first watched this episode as a kid, Opie’s age, but now I’m older than the man in the intersection. You can’t hurry time, nor should you want to… just enjoy it.
A little bit of Aunt Bee’s home cooking, some country guitar, and a good smoke will slow you down, so that you can appreciate what’s all around you. It’s like I own this house and all its memories. This porch is America’s porch. God gave me a tiny window to experience dreams in ways completely unique to me. I cherish these moments! It’s as real as it can get!
Written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada