The Westcotts, by all appearances, were a typical couple, living a satisfying life. They enjoyed a lifestyle that included an active social life. The only thing that makes them different from all their well-educated, respectable friends is their love of classical music.
However, the Westcotts' reality abruptly changes when Jim buys a new radio to replace their old one. Almost immediately, they discover that the radio is capable of picking up their neighbor's conversations and transmitting them through the speakers in their living room.
Initially shocked and disgusted by the radio's ability to intrude on the privacy of others, Irene slowly becomes less apprehensive about the radio and starts listening with rapt attention to the secrets spilling out. Irene now looks forward to her eavesdropping, looking at her neighbors in the elevator trying to figure out who said what and match the conversations.
One theme that is addressed in this story is the idea of addiction. The Westcotts' become hooked on listening to their neighbors conversations. The radio becomes the symbol for an irresistible drug, that lures people into addiction. The radio is depicted as having violent powers.
"It knocked a china ornament from a table to the floor. She rushed to the instrument and reduced the volume. The violent forces that were snared in the ugly gumwood cabinet made her uneasy." (Cheever)