by Benjamin Allen Root, Sr.

Years ago I knew a man whose crude frame house sat amid the rows of a cotton field. For him the world seemed to end somewhere beyond the cotton rows and beyond the crossroad grocery store. His was a simple world in itself and it apparently suited him to be in it. His own family orbited him as the head of the household. For years I watched the status quo, untraveled existence of this rural Mississippi family.

But one day when I visited there, I was met by an intensely strong chemical odor which hung among the cotton plants after it had escaped from the house itself. It was pungent and burned the nostrils. Inside the old house it was almost overwhelming. I found it coming from one of the front rooms, where the father of the household was busy melting together sulfur and metallic lead. He had read somewhere that this was the way to make early-model radio sets. He was going to use baling wire to make the contraption work.

Sulphur is also brimstone and its foul odor suggested that the outside world he hoped to bring inside would be something in tune with evil. He had before him all of the elements of deviltry. Fire, brimstone, and metallic lead were uniting together to form galena, the crystal which made original radios function.

And when it finally was completely assembled, I was given an opportunity to listen through its earphones. A newscaster was telling that troops of the Third Reich had entered Czechoslovakia. Its first sounds spoke of war. As the days went by, its voice became louder and told of the fighting moving closer. It seemed to speak only of evil. Soon some of those who listened had to put down the earphones and go to be a part of that war. The United States was involved, and many were dying in unpronounceable places. War training planes appeared overhead, and rationing soon sent many civilians to work in gardens to supplement the meager foodstocks which were available.

Because it did not use batteries or any other kind of power, the brimstone radio never was turned off. Even when no one was listening, it still recited its casualty lists and its strategic moves on the chessboard of war. It began to act like the war itself, something turned on which could not be turned off.

Much later some of those very same people who had been caught up in the original acts of the war were brought to a prison camp here in our own state—not far distant from the brimstone radio. To the imagination of someone young at that time, it almost seemed that the making of the crude listening device by the use of fire and brimstone had led into our community, right up to the edges of our cotton fields, the very monsters who had lurked so distantly beyond the ocean. But the young German prisoners looked no more evil than those who had gone away to fight them.

Somehow, to the impressionable mind, it all seemed vaguely connected to the construction of the handmade set. It had spoken only of evil; seemingly it had dealt only misery. Never again have I dared to listen to sounds and reports coming from a brimstone radio.

Photo courtesy of Mike Peebles of Peeble's Original Radio Site