Our colorful media past
While researching the origins of my little old 1910 farm house recently, I came upon a number of newspaper articles. Those early papers really printed the news. Not only the news about what was happening in the community and the world, but the news about what was happening in the personal lives of the local citizenry. If farmer Ben Schaller hitched up the team and drove out to visit his nephew in Canby, we knew he stayed there for the night and that a lively time was had by all. We might be told that his little cousin Jeramiah was celebrating his 5th birthday and received a new pony.
During my research, there was one news item in particular that caught my eye. It was gleaned from "The Oregon City Enterprise," Aug 9, 1912 and read as follows: "The Ladies Circle meets next week, Thursday afternoon, the 15th with Mrs. Gage, and she hopes to have a full house. This society was formed to get the neighbors acquainted, as since the advent of the telephone, they rarely meet except at church or a funeral." I believe this falls under the old adage "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Fast forward a hundred years or so to our cell phone-linked social media culture. The need for us 21st century folks to have face-to-face relationships has diminished too. And we seem to be struggling with that fact in the same way our ancestors did.
The next form of media to become popular was the radio, brought to life by Guglialmo Marconi in 1895. His new invention began to be used for real when the first broadcast of entertainment and music was transmitted from Brant Rock, Massachusetts in 1906.
Radio has a colorful past. Its original purpose was for military use in WWI and it served as President Franklin Roosevelt's conduit to the American people during WWII. His legendary fireside chats gave confidence and much-needed courage to the nation. Unfortunately, elsewhere Tokyo Rose was busy goading our troops with her inflammatory and demoralizing broadcasts to the South Pacific.
As time evolved, the radio produced many hits, among them "Fibber McGee and Molly," "The Inner Sanctum" and "The Whistler." Fibber McGee and Molly was a comedy show that entailed either Fibber or Molly mistakenly opening a closet that was packed with everything imaginable. When the door was opened, a huge mass of paraphernalia would burst out, accompanied by crushingly loud and funny sound effects. Of course, the door was repeatedly opened during the broadcast.
"Inner Sanctum" was a drama featuring horror and humor in equal doses. I was very young at the time of these broadcasts, so I don't remember the actual stories, but I do remember experiencing a delicious fear and anticipation upon listening to the introduction of Inner Sanctum. First, a door would slowly open with a loud, unnerving creak. Then an eerie voice would say "Good ev-en-ing…. WELcome to Inner Sanctum." Both Bela Lugosi (the original Dracula) and horror-master Boris Karloff would often star.
The third program I remember from radio's golden era was "The Whistler." Each episode began with the sound of footsteps and whistling. Then a voice would say "I am The Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk at night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes ... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!" I mean, really, how could you resist?
And then, of course, there was television. Ours was black and white and sported a 9-inch screen. The earliest programming was mostly baseball, but drama and comedy shows soon followed. Cowboys were BIG. There was Hopalong Cassidy and The Cisco Kid. There was The Lone Ranger and Silver, there was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, and, of course, Roy Rogers and Trigger.
What particularly sticks in memory is "The Milton Berle Show," "Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town," and "The Red Skeleton Hour." "Uncle Milty" mostly featured vaudeville routines, while Ed Sullivan was known for introducing acts like the newly popular Elvis Pressley. He also introduced the Beatles and The Rolling Stones to America. (It was not a show that you missed — ever.) The Red Skeleton Hour was a comedy show in which the host assumed alternating personalities, Like "Clem Kadiddlehopper," and "Freddie the Freeloader." His characters, especially Clem, tended to be naïve, bumbling, and entirely lovable. Red was known for his sweet nature and for his ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time.
I miss him. I miss our old-time media, too. It reflected a simpler, less sophisticated age, pretty much devoid of present day R-rated drama.
Where are you when we need you, Clem? Please come back.
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