The saga of the car stereo

January 22, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 22, 2016

One day last week, I got into my car and turned the key. The engine started but my radio didn’t.

I think I noticed the radio’s silence only after I’d been driving for a few minutes. I fiddled with the dials and pressed different buttons, but nothing had any effect. I plugged in my smart phone — it connects to the car stereo through one of those cassette adaptors people started using when portable compact-disc players began becoming popular — and cranked up a podcast. I heard the audio, but very very faintly; none of the words were comprehensible.

I was going into a busy weekend with the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, so I knew I’d have to suffer without a radio for a few days. I tried playing a podcast just with my smart phone speaker, but it wasn’t loud enough once I got on the freeway. Sad Matthew face!

That didn’t stop me from attempting to listen to the radio. Every time I turned it on, I hoped that I would hear National Public Radio or a sports-talk show or some music. I never did. I wasn’t even rewarded with the distracting sound of static.

On Monday afternoon, I was driving along in my car when I happened to glance at the stereo and noticed a button, labeled “Mode,” that I didn’t remember having seen before.

What is that? I thought. What does it do? This surely wasn’t the first time I’d ever laid eyes on that button, but I just couldn’t recall what it did.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I pressed it and the stereo gave me the option to adjust its bass output. I pressed it again and it allowed me to modify treble. Changes to balance and fade were also available.

A few minutes later, I started playing with the fade, which was set all the way to the right. When I moved it past the center point, I could hear the radio. Hallelujah!

Initially, my theory was that I’d somehow accidentally shunted the fade all the way to the back of the car. But after thinking about it some more, and after fiddling with the stereo further, I decided that something different had happened.

Since I almost never have people in the back of my car, I’m pretty sure that one day, I’d set the fade to play all sound at the front of the vehicle and none at the back. And one day recently, the speakers in the front of the car, or at least a cable connected to those speakers, must have failed. No matter how I adjust things now, the sound always seems to be coming from the back of the car. And while the stereo simply doesn’t sound quite as good as it used to, it sounds best when the fade is moved to the opposite end of the scale from where I found it on Monday.

I’m relieved that my car stereo is (sort of) working now. Having to drive around without radio or podcasts was, er, driving me batty — to the point that I was thinking seriously about getting another car.

I probably should get another car in the foreseeable future; the one I have is 15 or 16 years old. But while I’m in the process of doing that, at least I’ll be able to hear stuff as the road scrolls on by.

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