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December 2, 1998

Today's astounding technology leaves most of us scratching our heads, speechless and bewildered in disbelief. How can we pretend to understand the way computers perform their marvelous, lightning-fast functions, or how television pictures can be beamed through the air to monitors in locations around the world? Most of us are still grappling with such mundane things as the telephone, a device that Alexander Graham Bell presented to the world more than a century ago. Don't expect us to master the flood of astonishing electronic gadgets that seem to flow so freely from the fertile minds of Bill Gates and his clones. This column is composed on a home computer with magnificent capabilities I have not even dared to explore. It was explained to me once but it was in an unfamiliar language -Computerese. I know if I push the right buttons on the keyboard, certain things will happen. I just know that it works, OK? I don't pretend to know why.

But this is not a new condition. Somehow it is reassuring to know that other generations have been as perplexed as we are by the inventions that revolutionized much of their lives. We can safely assume that those folks -- our ancestors -- were just as baffled in their day by the array of new ideas they were offered as this generation seems to be in getting a grip on the marvels of the late 20th century.

The thing that brings all this to mind today is a clipping from the December 6, 1923, edition of the Noble County Sentinel, a forerunner to The Perry Daily Journal. The piece was found in the newspaper microfilm files at Perry Carnegie Library by Cheryl DeJager, who is doing some independent research on early Noble county schools. The newspaper story has nothing to do with that subject, but it caught Cheryl's eye and since it has to do with the City Drug Store, where my father was the proprietor, she passed it along to me. I think it might be of interest to you, too.

The piece appeared at the top of a column on page one of the newspaper. Remember, this was 75 years ago. The radio was to that age what digital TV is to us. Here's the entire story, including the headline:


The radio set at the City Drug Store today brought Perry right to Washington and in fact right in front of President Coolidge when he delivered his first message to Congress after taking his position at the head of the United States. The atmospheric conditions were ideal and the radio set brought out every articulation of the President as clear and distinct as though one were sitting on the front row in the capitol. The President talked in a common tone of voice with his voice rising and lowering slightly as he emphasized certain paragraphs of his address. At frequent intervals the President was interrupted with loud applause which could be heard plainly. The address lasted nearly two hours. It is estimated that over five million people listened in by means of the radio.

The story conveys to me the sense of wonderment that people of that age must have had regarding the radio. Heck, even today I don't understand how radio works, so I can believe they were totally in awe concerning something as strange as furniture that talked. My dad, though, sold a line of radios at the drug store and I suspect he was pretty pleased to see that story so prominently displayed on the front page of the Noble County Sentinel on December 6, 1923. Thanks to Cheryl DeJager for passing it on to me.