Hamsters in the Smoke
Written by Jim Bartlett on May 5, 2014
This past weekend’s Saturday morning edition of American Top 40 is a show I can remember hearing when it was on the first time, back in the spring of 1974. I was a 14-year-old music and radio geek, and I used to sit by the radio with a pencil and paper and write down the title and artist of each song as Casey played them. I remember being pretty happy when my favorite songs of the moment, “T. S. O. P.” by MFSB was the #1 song on the show.
Somethign else I remember very well happened sometime that spring, probably in the month of May. We came home from church one Sunday to find our house full of smoke. We didn’t see any fire, but we couldn’t tell where the smoke was coming from, either. As it turned out, the culprit was the radio in my brother’s bedroom upstairs. It was an old plastic box with tubes inside that had belonged to my father (and had been my first radio a few years before), something inside had shorted out and burned. It was hard for us to imagine that it could have produced the volume of smoke we saw, but it did, and the smoke and soot damage, particularly to the upstairs, was significant.
The afternoon of the fire, my brother was inconsolable, sure that his hamsters, which lived in his room, were dead. At mid-afternoon my father finally went up to retrieve the cage. The little creatures were covered with black soot—but they were still alive. It fell to my grandmother, for reasons I can’t recall, to clean them up. I can see her even now, standing at the kitchen sink, washcloth in one hand and hamster in the other, with a look on her face that said, “You know, at my house we set traps for things like this.”