I’ve always wanted to do a “countdown” style series on social media. I just never thought of, or settled on a suitable countdown theme to do so. This year, while perusing some old catalogs I have in my collection, I decided on a theme of items I remember wishing I would get for Christmas when I was younger.
I thought I might do it in an advent style, one item per day in the month of December, until Christmas Day. I’ll post entries in both of my social media feeds, Facebook and Twitter, and append each day’s new entry into this article on the Vintage Volts website with my thoughts and memories of the item.
Today is December 2, 2019. I’m already a day behind, so I will get started with two entries right away to catch up.
Day 1: Casio CFX-40 Scientific Calculator Watch
This has got to be one of the coolest gadgets I’ve known in the past. It is a wristwatch with a built-in scientific calculator! Not only that, but it did BIN|HEX|DEC|OCT number conversions. I remember wanting this one badly back in 1983, so much so, that I ended up buying it for myself when it wasn’t under the Christmas Tree that year.
I was a senior in high school back then, and contrary to school policy today, calculators were forbidden in most math classes, even Trig class, which I was taking that year. We had to learn to calculate trig formulas by hand using “Trig Tables” for common SIN/COS/TAN values, using interpolation to gain additional accuracy. I’ll admit, I embraced the convenience of this calculator, and snuck in its use due to its diminutive and concealable size, to (…ahem…) double-check my in-class work. The only thing I had to do beforehand was to disable the built-in speaker because it beeped on every keypress. I just slipped a piece of paper between the inside of the case back and the conductive spring that connected to it. However, doing so also eliminated sound for the alarm feature. So what… I had a SCIENTIFIC *FREAKING* CALCULATOR on my WRIST!!!
I was also a student in a Vo-Tech curriculum for Electronics Theory, so the convenience of this gadget was immeasurable. While others were tapping away, figuring out impedance and reactance formulas on bulky, battery draining, LED full sized calculators, I was happily tapping away on my wrist using the eraser end of a pencil on a device that got more than a month’s worth of use out of its battery.
Day 2: HO Gauge Railroad and Slot Car Set
I have always been a fan of scale models of any type. And when those scale models can actually do something on command, EVEN BETTER! So as an impressionable “tween” back in 1977, with a curiosity so easily fed by Christmas toy catalogs that were popular in those days, it wasn’t long before I latched onto the desire of owning a scale track model.
My problem was, I couldn’t decide on wanting a slot car set, or a train car set… so why not have BOTH!!!
This set gave you the best of both worlds. You can have a nice, autonomic HO sized train working its way around the track while simultaneously enjoying a competitive race between two slot cars vying for position, and wondering in which lap they both would crash into one another.
Sadly, I did not get this at all for Christmas. Nor did I get either one as a separate set of their own, which I would have equally enjoyed. This was probably due to actually receiving a hand-me-down slot car set in a previous year “which I didn’t play with”, so why should I get another one that I probably won’t play with. As far as I remember, there was something that didn’t work right on the hand-me-down set, which is why I didn’t play with it.
Actually, it was probably more of a cost issue. $48.88 back in 1977 was a lot of money, and since I didn’t know the value of a dollar back then, I most likely did not understand what it would have taken for parents to commit to buying this as a gift… as opposed to something else I got that my parents thought would be more practical.
Day 3: Coleco Tabletop Arcade
My memory is a bit fuzzy on these, but I do remember them being under the tree for both my brother and I. The fuzziness comes from which models we had, and who had which one. I can picture three of them in the household. There was Donkey Kong (as shown), which was my brother’s. Galaxian, which was mine. And then I remember a Pac-Man version, which I may have bought on my own with money I received for Christmas that year.
Needless to say, back in 1982, during the arcade craze, these things were AWESOME! The BINK-BONK, BINK-BONK noises were crude, along with the fixed character VFD displays, but they were certainly high tech at the time. You had to have lived through that era to appreciate what they were, and to slip into the (short lived) excitement they created… all while keeping battery manufacturers in high profits. These things sucked batteries dry very quickly.
Unfortunately, not all of them had any longevity. I believe before the next Christmas, my Galaxian simply stopped working. Even with fresh batteries, it failed to turn on one day. Then as the warmer days of Spring and Summer came along in 1983, we did what most kids in those days did… we went outside to play, leaving the electronic goodies to fend for themselves on shelf closets for months on end. That may have contributed to the failure of the Galaxian, who knows. I don’t even remember what became of the other ones. Perhaps my brother and I totally lost interest in them, even though I wish I still had them for their collector’s value today.
Day 4: Emerson PM-3950 Multiband radio
This gift was actually a surprise to me at Christmas, 1977 if I recall correctly. That year, I was jealously pining for my very own portable cassette recorder. I thought it was cool that it was easy to record your voice, or music from the radio, and play it back any time you want. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the gift wrap to this multi-band radio instead.
I was in my tweens at this time. I was just starting to understand the wonder of electronics in how convenient electronic devices were, and more, how fun they could be. I never had a second thought about the concept of a multi-band radio, having only a AM/FM transistor radio and enjoying the music of the day. Little did I know what else was out there to listen to, as long as I had a device that could tune in its frequency.
The PM-3950 wasn’t an extravagant radio by any stretch. It didn’t even cover any of the common shortwave bands. It just had AM and FM broadcast, VHF Television audio, UHF television audio, and Aircraft/Police frequencies ranging from 106MHz to about 176MHz. The latter band is where I spent most of my time. I was close enough to an airport to pick up tower and pilot audio, and discovered the regional police frequencies simply by manually scanning up and down the dial. Back then, there was no common use for encryption or digital modulation, so it was easy to listen in on a lot of those broadcasts.
The one pictured here is the very one I own today. Not my original. That died long ago. This was purchased a few years ago during a nostalgic wave of buying back my childhood.
Day 5: Panasonic Portable Cassette Recorder
As I explained on a previous day in this series, I always wanted my own personal cassette recorder, to be able to record my favorite songs from the radio, or whatever else my curious mind could think of to record.
I’m not sure of the exact year, I’m guessing it was 1978, but that wish did come true one Christmas. I had received my very own Panasonic brand cassette recorder… and a 5-pack of multi-color cassettes to go along with it! I couldn’t be happier than to receive such a gift. So much so, that it’s about the only thing I can remember getting that particular Christmas day. Every other gift I got had gotten swept away from my mind.
The picture shown is not the exact model of the one I got. Mine did not have the brushed aluminum accents or the Pause switch. Other than that, it was basically the same, in all black plastic. This thing went with me EVERYWHERE! It had an AC adapter included (which wasn’t always a standard inclusion for battery operated devices at the time), and also ran on 4 C-cell batteries.
Yes, I made a bunch of mix tapes from recordings from the radio. Only one has survived to this day. I also remember making my own music comedy news clips akin to Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman. I wasn’t a comedic genius by any stretch of the word, but I had fun trying. Perhaps it’s better for society that those tapes did not survive. 🙂
A remake of the only surviving mixtape from my collection, as a YouTube playlist, can be found here.
Go to the next article in this series.