From Robots to Radios

robotics competition, first robotics, montreal robotics competition, teens building a robot, teens in red shirts

That's my son Kane over there. No, not that one. The other one. No. Not that one! Sheesh. He's the one in the red shirt.

This past March, I was at a robotics competition. My son, Kane, joined his school’s robotics club and they entered the competition. No, it wasn’t the kind of event where you hope and pray that a freak lightning storm will occur right above your head and strike you dead before someone has the chance to ask you which one is yours and you are forced to admit – while attempting to not look completely humiliated – that the fruit of your loins is actually the 4th apple tree in the back. Yes, the one picking his nose.


It wasn’t like that at all.

All of the robots were really incredible. I watched my son working on his between the match-ups. He was dismantling stuff, tightening screws, re-wiring and using power tools like they were extensions of his hands. And I am not ashamed to admit that I felt proud.

I also felt… nostalgic.

You see, I kept thinking about the little portable radio I had when I was a kid. I guess I was about 8 years old. It was a little AM/FM deal and I loved it. I loved listening to the classic rock stations on the FM dial. I loved listening to disco on the AM dial. I really loved turning the knobs past all the radio stations, until near the very end of the dial where I would pick up something I swear still was alien communications.

And then one day it stopped.

vintage radio, transistor radio, alien communications

Invest in some tin foil. Seriously.












I noticed that my radio would cut out after a couple of hours. If I shook it around, it would come back on. Then it started cutting out after just an hour. Then half an hour. Then no amount of shaking would make it come back on. I was devastated. The music was gone from my life. Even worse, the aliens were gone! How would I know when the invasion was going to happen?!

I got the idea that I could fix it.

I started thinking about how, at first, it would start again when I shook it. That must mean that something was loose, right? And when I shook it, I jiggled it back into place. I also realize d whatever was loose had probably been shook off of wherever it was supposed to be, so shaking it no longer worked. So all I needed to do was open it up and find out what wasn’t where it was supposed to be, then put it back and my radio would be fixed. Simple.

But there was a little bit of a problem.

To do all that, I needed tools. I was the daughter of a conservative Greek man who believed all the tools I would ever need in life could be found in the kitchen. I wasn’t allowed to use tools. I stared at the slot screws in frustration, trying to figure out how I could sneak my father’s screwdriver set out of the workshop without him noticing. Impossible! Then I realized something. All the tools I would ever need in life may not always be found in the kitchen, but this time they were. I could use a butter knife to take the screws out!

So that’s what I did.

radio wires, radio components

Simple, right?


I pulled the two halves of my radio apart. I looked inside to find the problem. I realized I had no idea what I was looking at. There were wires and metal things and other metal things and yet other metal things and more wires. I stared in frustration. Then I realized I was staring at the end of a red wire. Why wasn’t it attached to something? Aha! Here was the culprit.


But where should it go?

I turned the radio on, grabbed the loose wire and randomly touched it to metal things, other metal things, other wires and more metal things. Nothing. In frustration, I flung the wire down. It landed on a miniscule metal post, and  slowly slid off. For a moment though, whilst on the post, the aliens spoke. I was ecstatic. And then I wasn’t.

How to reattach it?

I couldn’t touch a screwdriver, there was no way I was getting my hands on a soldering iron. I had an idea. I swiped a pack of matches from the kitchen drawer (because, as it turned out, all the tools I needed really were in the kitchen) and a crayon from my little brother’s box of Crayolas (also, kept in the kitchen) and, holding the wire in place with my foot, I melted the tip of the crayon over the wire and post to fuse them together.

On a totally unrelated note, I miss the flexibility I had at 8 years old.

When the wax hardened, I jiggled the wire to ensure it stuck to the post. Then I closed up my radio and used the knife to tighten the screws again. I turned the radio on and listened to the aliens plot our demise. For about 10 minutes. Then the radio died again. I opened it back up and saw that the crayon wax had melted and the wire had come loose again.

I laughed.

The music was dead, the aliens were coming and I laughed. It didn’t matter if it didn’t keep working. I fixed it. Even if only for a little while. I figured it out. Then I put the matches back in the drawer, buried the crayon stub in the garbage, dropped the knife in the sink and left my broken radio on the nightstand.

I wonder if it’s still at my parents house.

I had completely forgotten about it until I saw Kane working on the robot. I had forgotten about how happy it makes me when I have the chance to fix something. Or to figure something out. I think I’ll have to visit my parents soon and see if it’s still there.

Now that I own my own power tools.

Related Posts

  • Well, weren’t you just the clever little thing!   I had a radio very similar to that and was listening to “classic rock” before you youngins started calling it that.   How cool that Kane is into scientific stuff.   Get him to build a robot that pours wine, serves cheese and then does the dishes.  🙂

  • All this time, and you wait until now to admit that you could have fixed your own damn VCR.

  • I don’t know about clever, Jayne. I think it truly being a case of necessity being the mother of invention! And, at the time, I didn’t call it classic rock either. 🙂

  • LOL! No, I couldn’t have. I didn’t have any crayons. 🙂

  • I’d be proud of you kid as well.  I’m really impressed by people that are analytical and mechanically inclined. People can make jokes about engineers being dull but I think they are rock stars.  Hope he did well in the competition.

    You were an enterprising kid.  I was resourceful to make things work as a kid as my dad didn’t like to spend money..ever.  But when he did he would buy things like tools.  It was things like clothes and shoes that he thought if you had one of something that should suffice. 

  • I learned that kind of creativity from my parents.  If you don’t have what you need, you improvise.  Daddy did a temporary fix on a fuse in my car with foil from a cigarette pack. I’ve used a coin as a screwdriver. 

    I think it’s cool that you went to such lengths as an 8-year old to fix your radio.  I guess you grew up to be a handy gal.

  • MalisaHargrove

    Oh, wow! That portable radio brings back some memories. I wish I had kept all the radios I had as a child. I am super impressed by your ingenuity not to mention your early instincts to sneak around behind men’s backs! Yeah for you! Great story and congrats to your talented son!

  • Who are you? Macgyver? You fixed your radio with a melted crayon? I remember as a kid (I know, I shouldn’t. It was a long tome ago) listening to my transistor radio and pulling in “Cousin Brucie” on WABC in New York and “Jucie  Brucie” on WBZ in Boston. Confusing, right? I was thrilled to pull in this stuff in the early 60s. You know the early 60s? Before, what did you call it, disco? And before FM. Never had to use a crayon to boost reception.

  • OK, are we twinnies?   I had a little radio given to me which died. I took it apart, located the loose wire and twisted it back on with my nimble (I wish they still were) fingers. Mine was an older radio than yours and we didn’t have FM.  I listened to the pirate station, Radio Luxembourg.  The fact that they were broadcasting illegally, from a boat in the middle of the sea, just added to the enjoyment.  That little radio lasted  a while with that twisted on wire. Each time it came loose I would repeat the process, until I had twisted all the wire away.

  • Wanna fix a toaster??  Heh, heh.

    When I was a kid, a hand-held transistor radio was like an IPod in those days.  Of course, you could only get AM stations (FM models were more expensive and, really, the only station you could get was “CBC Radio” – boring), but we had some great music stations then before they all moved to FM.  And I had to fix my radio a couple of times too, except I used a solder gun.  My grandma was – and still is – the ‘fixer’; she had all the tools.  In her kitchen.

  • Thanks, Cheryl! Kane and his friends did very well, considering it was their first robot and their first competition. They didn’t win, but they walked away feeling very proud of themselves, and eager to try again next year.

    My dad also believed in stocking up on quality tools. Not that he ever let me touch them! 🙂

  • Thanks Linda, I guess I am pretty handy. As long as there are crayons around 🙂

  • Hah! Yeah, I’m a little sneaky Malisa. But only when I have to be. Okay, and sometimes when I don’t have to be. 🙂

  • No, I’m Richard Dean Anderson. You should see what I can do with a couple of toothpicks, some chewing gum and a napkin, Dufus.

    I actually don’t know the early 60’s Dufus. I was born in ’69. Sorry 🙂

  • Wow! Once again, you’re my hero. I can’t even figure out how use the DVD player.

  • I adore you for your obvious talent, brilliance, and beauty.  That you “fixed” a radio puts you in the Superhero category.  I love that you can “do” stuff and your son can too!  Marvelous!!!  I know exactly what you mean about the “aliens” too.  I used to listen to them too!

  • Babs, I once read somewhere that Aquarians are known for their ingenuity. That must be what it is! I love that you could catch Radio Luxembourg! I can’t imagine anything better than listening to pirates, except maybe listening to aliens.

  • Ha ha ha! That would be really cool!

    My favourite old saying is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

  • I think even a whole box of crayons couldn’t save your toaster now, Dozo! 🙂

    I think I love your grandma!!

  • Thanks, Cheryl. You should see me in a cape 🙂

  • Thank you, hon! I was really impressed with Kane’s abilities, more so because (unlike me) he actually knew what he was doing and wasn’t guessing the whole time. Plus, he didn’t use any crayons. 🙂

  • This sounds like an offer to toss on your cape and fly down to show me how to use the DVD player. Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m pretty sure my husband will show me eventually.

  • Oh WOW this is an AWESOME story!!  It made me remember opening up all kinds of things, trying to fix them!  Funny, now I open computers and fix them…. but usually I am ABLE to fix them…. as opposed to when I was a kid and wasn’t able to fix anything!

  • I didn’t think it was possible, but you’re even hotter now than you were before.

  • 2 thoughts.  1) I knew you were a classic rock kind of chic.  2) I’m the daughter of a tool salesman.  I wasn’t allowed to touch tools either but it was because they were expensive and I never put them back where they went.  You need a tool, I’ll swipe it from Dad’s garage for you.  I just need to have it back before he notices!

  • KZ

    I’m impressed, Nicky!  You were a little MacGyver back then (Noname beat me to the reference).  Back as a child, tinkering with technology really scared me, and I was always too intimidated to expose the guts of my broken electronics.
    Now that you have your own power tools, I hope to see a new blog post from you shortly in which you unveil your Frankensteined radio robot, complete with a hypnosis ray and a laser canon.  I eagerly wait in anticipation.

  •  LOL, I’m the opposite Katherine. The older I get, the less able I am to fix things!

  •  Lemmikki, next time we Skype, I’ll wear my tool belt.

  •  I’m glad you’re so anxious to see the Frankenstein Radio Robot, or FROBOT as I like to call him. He’s your Gary Cooper’s birthday present. Watch out for the laser canon. 🙂

  • Actually, Nora, while I grew up on classic rock, I prefer easy listening. 🙂

    You. Are. The. BEST! I promise, Nora, he’ll never even know they were gone!

  • Awwwwwwwww. Nicky, I hope that Radio IS still at your parents house. Maybe you CAN bring back the music now that you actually have power tools.

    “On a totally unrelated note, I miss the flexibility I had at 8 years old.” That cracked me up!


  • RSS Feed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest