Mixed Signals

Upon learning that the Nats were playing a day game on Wednesday–a day I’m beholden to my office–I had a notion that I’d go do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: pick up a portable radio. I figured that way I could listen to the game without tying up office internet bandwidth trying to stream it through At Bat–there’s no decent AT&T signal at my desk. I’ve been meaning to do that anyway: I like listening to Charlie and Dave but the At Bat stream is delayed up to a full minute. With a radio, I could listen to them from my seat at Nats Park.

I mean, I remember a time when you couldn’t watch every game on TV. I may go back to that actually when I end my dysfunctional relationship with my satellite provider. I’ve heard friends of an age wax nostalgic over days gone by when they’d listen to baseball games over the radio in bed as a kid, when it was the only way to tune into every game. Cable video killed that radio star. But listening to games has other advantages for me: I can Get Things Done. You know–cook dinner. Clean out that pesky garage. Mow the lawn. Work. When you’re tuning into all 162 games, productivity is going to take a massive hit if you’re in front of the TV the entire time, right? And if you’re at the park, do you really want to have to go up to the concourse every time you want a play explained by Charlie and Dave?

So anyhow, I had to stop off at Target on the way home last night so I thought I would check their electronics section to see if they had any portable radios. After wandering around the section a few times with my preschooler in tow, I still hadn’t spotted any radios other than kitschy retro units that would require a milk crate to tote to games. A sales clerk in her late teens or early 20s asked me if she could help me. 

“Yes, I’m looking for a portable radio so I can listen to the baseball game on Wednesday while at work,” I said, gesturing at my Nats sweatshirt and lanyard. That’s right, kid, I’m a diehard fan.

“A…. radio?” Her face blanked. “I don’t know if we have those.”

Another young woman came around the bend–a little bit older. Mid-20s.  “You need a radio? I think we have those… over here.” We walk to one end of the electronics section. “Nope. Maybe over here.” We walk to the other end of the electronics section. “Do you have an Android or other smartphone? You can listen to radio stations using these things called apps…”

Oh, God, I think. Do I look that old? 

 “Yes, I understand that. But I’m looking for an actual broadcasting radio, because the apps require a data connection, burn through battery pretty quickly, and lag behind what’s happening real time.”

Clerk No. 1 picks up her handheld and pages for help. “Can you help this customer who needs a radio thing that she can use to listen to baseball games?”

Crackly answer from the other side: “We have all sorts of devices for being able to listen to media but I’m not aware of any that can do sports.”

OK. That’s three separate individuals who don’t understand what a radio is. “Can you tell them I’m looking for a Walkman style AM/FM portable radio?” I actually want the same portable radio I used to use to listen to radio before there was such a thing as iPhones. You know, in 2007. 

She dictates this very slowly over the two-way, as if speaking a foreign language.  Again, a crackle, “Tell her to walk down the iPhone aisle. If we have anything like that, it will be there.”

If we have anything like that? 

So the three of us–plus the preschooler–amble over to this aisle and start trying to weed through all the dozens of different mp3 players and iPod/iPhone accessories. They picked up several promising packages and stared at the fine print on them, trying to determine whether any of these items were… radios. Which they weren’t. 

Would I even want one of these if it weren’t for baseball? Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m still looking for the damned radio, but if all else fails I’ll swing by a more reliable electronics specialty store tomorrow. But I just have this sinking feeling that if I ask them for a radio, I’ll get that look. “A… radio?”

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