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One of my first tastes of freedom was driving a car, alone, with sole control of the radio. It was a manual 1986 Nissan Sentra, affectionately called “the Silver Bullet,” and a car that I shared with my two sisters and occasionally my dad or mom. I rarely had this vehicle to myself, and often invented alternative and longer routes to enjoy my taste of freedom just a bit longer. As it was the 90s, gas was inexpensive enough to make these longer drives without economic consequence.

In the 1990s, I had a growing cd collection, and my family had various cassettes and cds as well. A big purchase for me after high school was a stereo system where I could rotate between three different cds, and I loved the experience of having songs played at random between those three cds. Three cds at random! Some of my friends had 5 or 10 disk players and we marveled at the variety of music that could produce. Without that technology, we were at the mercy of whoever set up next to the stereo equipment and brought their collection of cds to play.

But the radio was always a wildcard, and I loved listening to it. I loved being surprised by what song might come next. I knew my own collection of music, of course, but there were so many bands and musicians that I knew or liked just one or two songs, so I didn’t buy the album and the radio is where I was able to hear the widest variety of a certain genre of music.

I still prefer to listen to the radio when I drive. Sadly, the Silver Bullet is long retired (RIP), but I still drive a manual car, that I’ll describe as vintage (instead of old). Today I have access to billions of choices for music, and I find it overwhelming. I’ve created playlists and I’ve curated certain types of music playlists that I enjoy for various occasions or reasons, of course. But sometimes I am overwhelmed by the choices. In the 1990s, there was cable, and network shows. The ones I really liked, I recorded with a VCR tape and watched when it was convenient, but I also missed quite a few shows, and that was fine with me. I had a few options to choose from, and I made choices based on my limited options. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the choices of what to watch or stream because it takes much more intentionality on my part to cultivate what I like and want to watch or what I should watch. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to have so many options, but there are times I miss having 6 options. Thankfully, my kitchen and pantry (and, for that matter, food access in a small rural community) still have limited options on what to cook or bake, but if I stray to the internet for ideas of what to make, the options become endless.

I still love listening to the radio in the car and am surprised by what someone else chooses to play. The other day I was stuck in construction traffic and listened to a ‘throwback lunch hour’ and realized I knew the words to every single song from the 1990s that the station played, and it made me laugh (and made the time fly by). The other day I popped in my car with my girls and a Taylor Swift song came on the radio station…we knew all the words and sang it as loudly as possible together. What a delightful surprise and fun memory.

I love a curated playlist and great suggestions on music and films and shows from friends, family, and colleagues and ‘experts,’ of course. But there’s something about the surprising joy of the radio that I’ll always love best, especially when riding in a car.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Tiny Dancer Bus Scene from the film Almost Famous

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • Dawn says:

    Couldn’t agree more! And yes, I remember my first CD player that played 5 CD’s. It was awesome!!

  • Rebecca,

    Thank you for this. I still drive a car that has a clutch and a CD player. One reason that I hold onto it is that I can’t find any new cars with CD player or clutches. I guess I’ll have to hold on to my car, “Irma” a little bit longer.

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