Ted tries another tune. L-R Jim
Heckman, DB, John Fenton, Kim Keister and Ted Sonderreger
My first nine years were spent at 724 South 45th
Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. The house was a modest wood frame two
story in a neighborhood that pretty much defined middle class. As
was the case for many homes in the fifties, a basement
recreation room was finished off by my dad and consisted of knotty
pine walls, a tiled floor and an interlocking cardboard type material
for the ceiling. This rec room was where our "sound system" was. I
didn't have my own 'kiddie' record player, unlike some of my friends
who had a store brand or perhaps even a character branded record player
like a Howdy Doody or Mickey Mouse phonograph. Our two piece system
consisted of an RCA model 45J record player that had a cord in the
back which attached to a table radio that sat next to it. The "software"
for our record player was 45 rpm records. The player did have an automatic
record changer but it was not a multi-speed player for 78's or any
Kim (looking through telescope,
brother Doug standing in back to left and brother Dave directly in
front of Doug) at his 8th birthday party with radio on back shelf
which plugged into the RCA record player as its speaker
I can still picture an Elvis Presley
cardboard 45 rpm jacket which housed a record which included the song
Jailhouse Rock. We also had an assortment of children's records, but
I don't recall much playtime for those. That RCA held up pretty well
considering three boys under 13 were playing records on it.
In November of 1959, we moved to a new custom
built ranch house at 6120 "L" Street. This was to be my home up to
my college years. The RCA 45J and radio accompanied our move. Sometime
in those early years on "L" Street, we upgraded the turntable to one
that could play 33 1/3 records, although album purchases would be
limited. Naturally, we had to start using those yellow 45 adapters
that have now become kind of a period piece icon.
One evening, when the family was shopping at Gold's,
we managed to convince Katherine (my mother) to give us some money
to buy an album. We decided on purchasing an LP that was a record
that of radio broadcast highlights from the 1962 Cornhusker football
season by local sportscaster Bob Zenner. 1962 was coach Bob Devaney's
first year at Nebraska and the season had gone well so Husker fans
were happy to listen to games again and relive highlights. This choice,
however, did not go well with Katherine. Most likely she was expecting
we would pick an album that actually contained music. Katherine was
never a fan of the football mania that is part of our state's identity.
Our days of securing funds for an album purchase were over. It was
one and done for her.
At some point in the early sixties, we must have
successfully lobbied our parents that the old 45 rpm system needed
to be upgraded for our rec room. Like our previous house, my dad had
once again finished off a large room in the basement with a tiled
floor, installed a ceiling with those interlocking cardboard type
squares, put up a knotty pine wall, and painted the cement block walls
a dull green. Those walls eventually were paneled as the knotty pine
option of the fifties went out of style, although the existing single
wall served as the partition for brother Doug's bedroom (and later
Kim's once Doug exited).
The rec room included a pool table, an upright
piano, dart board, table top hockey game and a makeshift bar which
became the playing surface for hundreds of games of Hearts, the serving
table for a great deal of Valentino's pizza, and other uses, as needed.
Mom sitting at the bar in the basement
Part of the furnishings included the popular "Cowboy"
furniture of the time and there was also a fireplace. The rec room
became an extremely popular neighborhood hangout, almost a magnet
if you will. The three brothers were all within four years of age
and we all had plenty of friends. Lots of good memories.
Kim playing pool with neighbor
Brother Dave poses in front of
the rec room fireplace with a Doris Day album. Dave loved Doris Day.
But, back to the music system upgrade.
Enter middle brother Doug. Doug had a friend, Kurt, whose father worked
at a bank. Through a possible repossession (not totally sure), a portable
music system was available. It looked like a piece of green luggage.
But, the most challenging issue would be that it only ran on batteries!
Now, keep in mind, this was long before the advent of rechargeable
alkalines and I'm pretty sure most in my generation have experienced
leaky Ray-O-Vacs in their flashlights.
Anyway, we purchased this portable
phonograph even though it was destined to always have a dead power
source. And no one was very anxious to buy more batteries when it
went dead. So it shouldn't be surprising that I don't remember using
that record player and questionable purchase very much, no doubt due
to it always having dead batteries. The sound was also extremely mediocre.
Thus, the unit was soon latched up and buried in one of the shelves
of the bar. Eventually it must have met its fate, into the garbage
or possibly it became a charitable donation.
So, record playing returned to that
old, 45 rpm record player plugged into a radio.
Getting ready to party in the Rec
In the fall of 1964 I entered the 8th grade and
was deep into adolescence. It's an awkward stage of life for most
of us, exacerbated by attempted interactions with the opposite sex.
Nevertheless, I had talked my parents into hosting a party that included…girls!
As I look back, I wonder what prompted me to want to take on such
a potentially painful endeavor, but I did. Problem was, all we had
for a sound system was still that primitive record changer/radio combination.
My friend, Jim Heckman, had a portable stereo
system that, while definitely not producing a high quality sound,
was a sizable upgrade over what we had in our rec room. I borrowed
Jim's stereo for the party. While I don't remember much from that
event (possibly memory erasure of something that didn't go right),
I believe they (mom & dad) may have been a tad bit embarrassed that
I had to borrow a friend’s stereo for the party. it prompted Carl
(my dad) and Katherine into purchasing a similar type portable stereo
system like Jim's to replace our old RCA. The unit was grey in color,
with detachable speakers that were spread apart to increase the stereo
effect. Choices then were mono or for a buck more, stereo albums.
The turntable was a base level Garrard. It was purchased at Gold's
where we always received a discount since my father was employed there
for most of his working life.
The new portable certainly increased my purchase
of records (mostly albums) and became a key drain of my discretionary
income. For some reason, the album I associate most with that portable
stereo was Revolver by The Beatles. And for some additionally
odd reason, the song "Tomorrow Never Knows" always comes to mind.
And, I really don't even care for it, with it's annoying "Indians
attacking" awkward sound (at least my interpretation). But "Tomorrow
Never Knows" certainly seems an appropriate song as I finish up writing
this story during the spring of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
At some point during those years, a combination
console stereo/television was obtained for the upstairs. This was
the era of large entertainment units. For many homes, console stereos
were selected as pieces of furniture first and as a music system second.
They usually contained mediocre equipment, but were what most regarded
at the time as what a stereo should be. While the television part
of the system received constant use (it was a color tv) the music
part was rarely played since it was upstairs and not in our basement
'retreat' where we could actually have enjoyed it.
I don't think my brother Doug would object to
being characterized as one who marches to the beat of a different
drummer. Fact is he would embrace it. In the fall of 1965, he had
a summer job at ISCO. (Instrumentation Specialties Company). ISCO
provided him access to a number of tools and industrial machinery.
Doug had a vision to build the ultimate home entertainment system,
which he planned to house in his basement bedroom, just off the rec
room. It would center around a giant metal plate that he had manufactured
at ISCO. The metal plate had plenty of drilled holes, which were to
accommodate future switches for multiple speakers. It included some
cutouts for the turntable and two mono amplifiers on the shelf behind
the plate. The plate was attached to a crudely built, very large cabinet.
Above the plate was a black and white tv (which I don't believe ever
worked) and a reel to reel tape recorder. At the base of the cabinet
was a storage area, possibly intended for albums.
Doug also built two large cabinets which housed
speakers that he had purchased mail order. The system actually didn't
sound too bad…and could get very loud. My most musical memory of it
was the song "I'm a Man" that was off the "Having A Rave-Up" album
by the Yardbirds. At the end of "I'm A Man" is a rough guitar riff
that was fun to turn up and I'm sure greatly annoyed the adults upstairs.
It was played many, many times. The whole system, cabinet included,
was eventually sold before Doug left Lincoln in December of 1968 to
follow his dream of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
All this while I became more curious
and fascinated by higher quality music systems. The component hi-fi
business was still in its early stages, kind of a niche market. However,
specialty stores that offered such equipment began to appear in Lincoln.
Among them were World Radio, Team Electronics, Kustom Electronics…and
a funky little business in the 300 block of South 11th named Electronics
Unlimited. Mail order options such as Radio Shack and Allied were
also part of their business.
In the summer of 1968 I got a summer job as a
lifeguard at a Holiday Inn. It paid $1.25 an hour plus a free meal
at dinner time. Hours were 2 to 10 PM, not sure the days I worked,
but am thinking it was about a 40 hour week. By my estimates this
lucrative job was going to bring in around $400 that summer. So my
desire for a quality stereo system was becoming more of a potential
reality. At that time, the base items for such a system were a (1)
turntable (2) receiver (amp + tuner) and (3) a pair of speakers. For
those on a limited budget and/or also to save space, a number of manufacturers
offered a compact music system in which the turntable/receiver were
Sometime early that summer, after undoubtably
many shopping excursions, I made the decision to purchase a Harman-Kardon
SC20 compact music system at Electronics Unlimited. To keep costs
down I chose a model that did not include an AM radio. Understand
that at that time the AM band was the only choice for popular music.
FM basically played "elevator" music. I believe it was my freshman
year in college before a local radio station, KFMQ, began offering
rock music at 2 PM in the afternoon. Seems odd now, but back to the
purchase. Also, to further keep costs down, I eliminated an optional
custom hinged dust cover in favor of a generic Garrard even though
it would require extremely careful removal while a record was playing.
Also to be added to my purchase were David Clark
headphones. I don't remember any friends owning quality headphones
and considered it a unique purchase at the time. I didn't, however,
know at the time how much enjoyment those headphones would give me
as part of my my first foray into personal listening.
So I was ready to purchase my first stereo and
The Harman-Kardon Incident
Since funds were extremely limited in my Gateway
Bank savings account, Electronics Unlimited offered a time payment
to speed up the purchase. Figuring that those monies would be earned
that summer, I opted for instant gratification and signed up for the
plan, which would have involved an ongoing interest charge.
What happened next has a back story. My parents
went through the Depression and I'm sure it had some impact on their
spending habits. Outside of a mortgage, my family did not put any
purchase on some interest bearing time payment plan! We lived within
our means and if you couldn't outright buy it, you didn't…or you saved
up for it. Katherine quickly discovered my purchase as soon as I brought
it home and there were immediate questions: Why did I feel that I
needed such an item; how much did I pay for it; where did I get the
money? When she found out that I had agreed to purchase it on what
I considered the perfect solution to have the system now, i.e., buying
it on a time payment, a combination look of horror and anger was on
her face followed by a "We don't do such a thing! What were you
thinking? Paying interest? How have I raised you?"
I'm not sure what else was said but almost immediately
Katherine and I were on our way down to Electronics Unlimited with
cash in hand ready to pay off the transaction. We met with the salesman
involved and Mom scolded him for taking advantage of a naïve 17 year
old by signing him up on time payments. I'm sure I was embarrassed
by the whole scene, but in the end it was worth it because I still
had my new H-K.
reading Look magazine and listening to Kim's Harman-Kardon
with Dave Clark Headphones, circa 1968.
Mom paid off the Harman-Kardon SC20 and the original
time payment plan, in effect, was transferred from me paying the store
to me paying Mom with the rest of my summer paychecks. Nevertheless,
when one reviews major purchases in their life, there are most likely
great choices and some regrettable ones. HK was a great choice. I
went on to enjoy that compact stereo that summer, through my senior
year in high school and well into college. Eventually a reel-to-reel
tape recorder was added which was later replaced by a cassette playing
High School Yearbook Advertisement for Electronics
I had always wanted to go away for college and
for my junior year, I somehow convinced my parents of this, despite
all the advantages of staying in Lincoln and continuing on at UNL.
I decided on Arizona State University, not because of any kind of
educational advantage, but I had some buddies already attending down
there, plus a great climate that seemed to be an obvious advantage
over those long Midwest winters.
In the fall of 1971, I piled my essentials into
the hand-me-down Ford Fairlane and headed to Tempe, Arizona. Naturally,
HK was included in the move. I shared a small apartment just off the
ASU campus with a fraternity brother, Dick Barney. Our apartment was
just steps away from the complex's pool and many hours were spent
with the HK blaring out our open front door and me laying on a chase
lounge soaking in hours of the Arizona sun. My course load was rather
ASU Apartment with Dick pointing
out that this was home and the place to come if you wanted to swim
and hear the H-K System
Dick listening to the HK SC20 Music
System inside our ASU apartment
But alas, the component market was exponentially
growing and I was keeping my eye on the latest and greatest. Mail
order wholesalers began showing up all over. In the spring of 1972
I became aware of a particular discounter whose warehouse was in San
Luis Obispo, California. My coveted HK had lost its luster and what
was now being offered in the market produced a higher quality sound
and a bigger bang for the buck. Ultimately, a new stereo receiver
was purchased from that California discounter while I was still attending
school. A pair of speakers and turntable followed. But the ASU adventure
had also run its course, I was homesick. I had gotten back together
with my girlfriend in Lincoln so soon I was headed back to Nebraska
for my senior year. The once treasured HK was left behind and sold
(i.e., practically given away) to my second semester roommates.
In 1972 Quadraphonic sound had become the latest
rage, although it was later to become a commercial failure. Pioneer,
among others, offered an adapter that integrated with an existing
stereo receiver, producing a kind of a faux quad sound. So with this
adapter I added another pair of speakers to complete my "faux
quad" system and everything was set up back in my room back at
my parent's home on "L" Street.
Pioneer Quad Receiver QX-4000,
I graduated from UNL in August of 1973 and married
the next day. The quad system went with us down to Beatrice, Nebraska,
where my wife had a teaching job and we rented a split level home.
Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out just what I wanted to do with
my life. In December of 1974, we decided that Beatrice was not a good
fit and we moved back to Lincoln. Before the move, the entire quad
system was sold to a student at Beatrice High.
Beatrice home with Ford Fairlane
I had taken a job selling stereo components at
Stereo Studio at Gateway Mall in Lincoln in the fall of 1974. Oddly
enough, this was the new name Electronics Unlimited had given for
their second store, evidently feeling the Electronics Unlimited name
wasn't capturing what they were offering to the general public. Through
Stereo Studio a new system was purchased which was a Yamaha receiver
and turntable, plus a pair of ESS speakers. Also I had to include
some Sennheiser headphones since the Clarks had run their course.
I can still picture that unit sitting in our apartment on the south
side of Lincoln.
Selling retail Hi-Fi equipment for me, however,
didn't last long. In the spring of 1975 I was, and I quote, "laid
off." The summer retail slowdown had begun, but truthfully my attitude
probably was showing as I again pondered what was I doing working
retail for minimum wage with a college degree. It was shortly after
that that I answered an ad in the paper for Pegler and Company…beginning
a 43 year career in foodservice distribution. In 1976, we built our
first house on 36th Street in Lincoln. Jean (my wife) had been commuting
to Beatrice during this time, but got on with Lincoln Public Schools
in the fall. That Yamaha/ESS system went with us to the 36th Street
house. And that's where I'll conclude the tale.
My component purchasing never stopped and everything
was gradually replaced again and again through the years. What stands
out the most was that first compact disc player I ever bought. It
was in the range of $700…we're talking 1980's dollars, but what an
improvement over a turntable and LPs (that said with an apology to
the vinyl analog purists).
Technics Compact Disc Player
Nowadays, most listening is with my iPod from
music downloaded out of an iTunes library. I have a nice entertainment
system in the house, but its mostly used for movies and television.
The days of sitting around listening to music with a group of friends
are few and far between. The music that is played on this system is
usually from one of the channels offered with the TV package and it
follows a genre format.
Times have changed. However, I still look back
fondly at that Harman-Kardon SC20 system and the joy and excitement
it brought me during a "rights of passage" time in my life.
It was a memorable purchase and it always puts
a smile on my face when I think about it.
That's my story.
"That's my story." May
The back of Harman-Kardon SC20
to play a few tracks...and move on