When Bad Quality Meant Good Times: Drive-In Speakers


We took the kids on a trip to the Detroit Historical Museum today.  After its amazing renovation, there’s even free admission for a full year.  Well worth the trip and a great place to bring visitors to the Motor City.

On the floor dedicated to the “Mo” part of Motown, near the Cadillac assembly line demo and some great old photos of Woodward avenue during its cruising days of the 50’s and 60’s, I spotted an ugly old sight that warmed my heart–the drive-in speakers.  You know, the ones you might find accidentally tagging along with you at 2 A.M. and a close relative to the A&W trays and those deposit tubes at the bank pull-up windows–just souvenirs of amnesia.

At the tail end of the drive-in’s existence, when they had decided to get their own little radio stations in the projector-huts and let you hear the movie on your much nicer car speakers you could still see the remnants of the old ways–derelict little poles facing the peeling billboard-sized screen with perhaps a rusty swing set below–lead paint and everything.

Before I was exposed to what nice hi-fi audio was, there was nothing more exciting than putting on my pajamas, piling into the back of the station wagon with my sisters (and a friend or five) without a car-seat in sight, passing the toll-booth and dropping the tailgate toward the screen.  That little nasty speaker would hang in one of the windows and if you saw the movie in the middle of the summer in Michigan, you didn’t really have a darkened theater until 10:45 or so.  But it didn’t matter.  It was a blur of bad movies, generally.  We’d usually play on the swings and risk our necks on the teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds that went out with the arrival of the car seat and the peanut allergy.  Then we’d fall asleep after one last trip to the scary concessions counter and restroom in the pill-box bunker.

I don’t even think that little knob worked–it was just the illusion of control.  But if you were on the car’s roof, on its tailgate or sitting in a lawn chair, you could hear the collective choir of all of those bullet-proof speakers singing the soundtrack of summer.


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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began MyMediaDiary.com in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 10 years since then. Contact him at: kevin@mymediadiary.com He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion.

2 Responses to When Bad Quality Meant Good Times: Drive-In Speakers

  1. uncle john says:

    remembering the 5 gallon steel bucket full of rootbeer and real beer (dad’s). We’d be at the swings and come back to re-fuel and then back to the swings. The good memories. Not so many years later they had heaters so in nov. there were so few people we could have a heater from each side and two speakers and “cuddle up”. Great post Kev!!

  2. cathy albery says:

    you forgot the little boats that went in a circle in stagnant water, and you could ring the little bell. and the home-popped popcorn in the brown, butter-stained grocery bag!
    don’t remember how individual servings were doled out.
    thanks for the reminder, kevin. i notice there was no mention of dates there!