Vignettes: Radio, TV, Record Players, Movies and Outside Sitters

22 Feb

Vignettes:
Small memories and stories concerning my family and my history

The first house: 607 Colonial Drive

Radio, TV, Record Players, Movies and Outside Sitters

Oh, what today’s kids are missing.

First is the great outdoors, not withstanding.

We did have our electronic entertainment, albeit a bit more cumbersome than today’s micro/digital/wireless forms. Even those have a trace of something today’s devices can’t replace.

Radio

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When I was a kid, radio was pretty much AM dominated. Local radio stations beamed out to an audience limited by distance. You might be on one station as you are traveling, and a few minutes down the road that station “fuzzes out” and you have to find another station.

Other than in the car, radios were boxy and featured various dials. The innards of a radio was a complex entanglement of various wires and large glass tubes. Not a circuit board.

What was aired was a combination of popular music, news and shows. Popular music ran the gamut from the crooners (Crosby, Sinatra and Dinah Shore) to early rock and roll to genuine country. Pat Boone, Elvis, Fabian, Chet Atkins and Patti Page were among the names and music popular. That was pretty much the selection. A show might be To Tell the Truth, based on the popular TV show, or comedy by the greats, Milton Berle, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

FM stations were few, but as the technology for stereo recording and broadcasting came into existence, they all but made AM an extinct form of radio.

Then, transistors, and Sony, and circuit boards and miniaturization, and stereo, and public radio and and and . . .

Now, Pandora and wifi and a zillion types of music separated by fine lines of non-distinction.

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TV

Television was black and white. It began airing maybe at six in the morning, and signed off at midnight. If you turned on your television on during non-broadcast hours, a graphic design would appear with the words Please Stand By printed in large letters. The only sound was a hiss.

For kids, Saturday TV was the best. It featured Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Looney Tunes and a host of slapstick cartoons. Black and white, of course.

There were also the cowboy shows: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid and more. Many of these television idols would tour the country and appear live in nearby cities, or even in Christmas parades.

Adults learned their parenting skills from evening sitcoms that featured families: Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith.

Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan ruled television — Ball with her wacky wit and Sullivan with his stiff-backed inimitable phrase, “a rilly gud shew.”

Jack Paar ruled late night — which wasn’t so late.

There were only two networks initially: CBS, NBC; and later, ABC. The closest broadcasting stations were in Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Charlotte was a reach unless you had a huge antenna on your roof.

The news was dominated by names like Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

Dave Garroway was the anchor for The Today Show.

Our local weather was a staged lookout tower where the meteorologist — then called a weatherman — climbed the long ladder to the booth where large clock-like dials indicated the temperature and barometer and wind speed and direction.

There were no women on broadcast TV at any level — other than Romper Room. Not one locally, either.

Nobody of color.

Interestingly, one of the most popular television comedies was Amos and Andy, a televised version of the radio show by the same name. Its plots were trite, though, and portrayals stereotyped.

Everyone else was scrubbed white with clean teeth and blue eyes and squeeky-clean. No one worked, but lived luxuriantly — with the exception of Riley ( star of The Life of by the same name). And Ralph, who drove a bus.

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Record players

My dad always had the latest in sound systems. My sisters, brother and I were reared on a fine mixture of music, from the big band sounds that my parents loved so much, to musicals and opera. Not so much country. My mom always said country singers sounded like they sang through their noses, and she was not fond of it.

Portable stereo record sets became available and popular when my sisters were teenagers. Each had one. The players could accommodate three different types of records: 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and 33 1/3 rpm (the majority of record albums).

I never bought a 78 rpm album. My dad had some.

The 45 records looked a little like doughnuts, with a big hole in the middle. Two songs were featured, one on each side. Back then, artists — primarily rock and roll — recorded on 45s. If their music was popular enough, they might record an album.

RCA dominated album distribution by offering ridiculous deals — 10 albums for only one dollar! Then you had to buy one album a month, plus shipping, for the rest of your life. I think probably every teenager got sucked into that ploy.

Music began to differentiate. Rhythm and blues. Rock and roll. Motown. Beach music. Folk music. The Platters, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis, The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, Peter, Paul and Mary.

Then The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, and Kiss and more.

Record players morphed into eight track players with bulky cartridges. Records melted into cassettes, and then CDs, and finally downloadable digital files. Degraded quality.

I bought my daughters record players for Christmas, and spent dozens of dollars for vintage albums: Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary. They were ecstatic.

What goes around . . .

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Movies

If you are in your teens, or even twenties or thirties or forties — even fifties — you missed out on going to the movies on a Saturday morning and spending the whole morning in the local cinema.

There were three movie houses in my hometown: the Paramount, the Center and the Rialto. They were downtown within less than a mile of each other.

The Center seemed the largest. The Rialto was nicknamed the Rat Hole, and the advice was to keep your knees tucked up and your feet on the seats so that the rats wouldn’t run across them during the movie.

The bottoms of all the seats were nubbed with the dried remains of gum. I used to make-believe that’s where bubblegum came from.

Just one screen in each of the theaters — none was a cineplex or multiplex or multicineplex. A large theatre with a balcony. The interior designs were fraught with ornate arches and columns and other architectural enhancements. Cushy cloth-covered seats that you had to fold up or down manually. No cup holder cutouts in the armrests.

And each sported a stage, with billowy velvet curtains to the sides and top.

A spotlighted emcee would cross to the front center of the stage and entertain a bit on Saturdays. Probably a local radio DJ. Then the film rolls would begin: news, cartoons (in color), and the serials.

News would feature world and national news. Flickering highlights of Eisenhour or Khruschev or whoever had made news recently. Sports briefs of Say Hey smacking one or running one down. Palmer and Nicklaus battling on the links. Horse races and the winning jockeys, smiling for the photographers, bulbs flashing.

The serials were spacemen and cowboys. Buck Rogers, or Hopalong Cassidy, bursting through a somewhat narrow screen in black and white, shooting and fighting and zapping and riding and rocketing through the air, only to end up in a dire predicament at the film’s end — a cliff-hanger — with the overly dramatic voice over: “Find out next time . . .”

Then, the screen would go black, and the curtains would open wider for the main event.

When the movie was over, streams of kids, yelling and laughing “Remember when he pulled out his gun and . . .” plus a thousand other climactic moments — everyone trying to outdo the other.

Coming out onto the sidewalk you were nearly blinded by the light. Your mother or grandmother was dutifully parked near the theater awaiting you, somewhat anticipating the raised energy levels due to the combination of film, Coca-Cola, popcorn and Goobers.

Most of those one-screen theaters have either been turned into museums, community theaters, torn down, or are the budget-movie locations.

What has not changed is that movies are still made to sell soda, candy and popcorn.

Except for the price of a movie ticket, which was 75 cents back then.

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Outside Sitters

The Tar Heel. The Pointer. Several other movie drive-ins were located within a short trip by car from where we lived.

For one low price a carload of kids, or a whole family could get away for a night of open-air entertainment.

My parents and we kids called them the drive-in sitters, on account before the movie could begin (it had to get dark enough, and in summertime, that could be pretty late) we kids ran down to the front of the huge screen where there were all sorts of playground equipment. Swings, sliding boards, whirligigs, see-saws. Great fun, especially when the lightening bugs came out.

For the undoctrinated, the design was inclined rows with metal posts that offered metal speakers for each car. The speaker had an L-shaped attachment that hooked over the front door, allowing the speaker to hang inside the car. Biggest problem is that sometimes drivers forgot to put the speaker back on the pole before driving off.

Second biggest problem was the sudden rainstorm — especially if you had a convertible and the top was down.

Third biggest problem? Inadvertent sex education for kids who ran through the scores of parked cars to get a quick peek inside.

We had one drive-in that featured adult films. The way the screen was positioned from the road you could always catch a quick glance of the screen when passing at night. I’m pretty sure it was intentional, and wondered how many road accidents occurred there due to a distracted driver.

I knew just when to look, and awaited the inevitable remarks from my mom, who always rode in the front seat passenger side and knew what I was up to.

You just couldn’t get anything past Mom in those days.

You’d have to travel pretty far to experience a drive-in movie these days. There’s one in Belmont, NC. And there’s one in Beaverton, Oregon. Little bit of a span between them.

I highly recommend that you go to one, and take your family along, when/if you get the chance. It’s a bit of Americana that I think you will definitely remember.

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