The prompt for Week 6 of “52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History” is: What was your favorite radio or television show from your childhood? What was the program about and who was in it?
Television shows are a subject that I have covered before, mostly in the two posts below:
Memory Monday: Television
Memory Monday: Scary Movies
This only scratches the surface of the TV watching we did, however. I could go on and list many other shows we watched and what they meant to me - in my pre-reading days in particular, these shows were the main fodder for my imaginative life. They most likely shaped many of my tastes in music, literature, and other arts. It was a good thing, then, that lots of cartoons had classical music, that there were lots of old British shows based on books (Scarlet Pimpernel, anyone?), and there was a lot of good old-fashioned adventure - the past (mainly the old West) and the future were my mental playgrounds. I never did buy into that “Vast Wasteland” stuff.
However, the prompt for this week’s 52 Weeks theme also mentions radio. And radio has also played something of a role in my life.
I remember two radio stations from our days in San Bernardino, California: KFXM and KMEN. These radio stations were, of course, my brother’s choice in listening (see “Memory Monday: My Brother’s Music”), but I was quite happy to listen along. They are the stations where we first heard the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones (and all the rest of the British Invasion). I remember KFXM as being the older, established popular music station, and the DJs had that funny, nasal sing-song delivery that was supposed to sound smooth. The KMEN were the new guys in town, and they brought goofiness and promotions such as treasure hunts into the mix.
During my junior high-school days, when my family was moving around a lot, one of the cities we lived in was Palo Alto, California, which happened to be in range of some interesting radio stations. I had a small portable AM radio (it was 1960s avocado green, as I recall), and at night when I could not sleep, I would see what programs I could tune into. One of my unexpected favorites was a show that featured old radio comedy programs from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. One that I remember in particular was the "Battling Bickersons" with Don Ameche and Frances Langford. These shows were a revelation to me. I was familiar with all kinds of TV comedy, but on radio you couldn’t really do physical schtick. Everything was in the dialog and the voices of the performers, though sound effects did sometimes also play an important part. This was part of the beginning of my education in the fact that not everything that was intelligent, sophisticated, and witty began with my own generation. We did not invent everything; in fact, we did some pretty heavy borrowing from previous generations, up to and including our parents’ generation.
The next phase in my radio education took place in Boston, Massachusetts - the “Hub of the Universe.” As in, “Live from Boston, Massachusetts, THE HUB OF THE UNIVERSE: It’s WCRB Saturday Night!” - followed by the opening peals of Fucik’s Entry of the Gladiators. This would be followed by Richard L. Kaye’s voice, outlining the lineup for the night, which might include any or all of the following: Tom Lehrer, Victor Borge, Spike Milligan, Allan Sherman, Beyond the Fringe, and many more delectable specialty acts and classic routines. I think I remember music piped in from Pipe Organ Pizza as well. Richard L. Kaye has been called a “connoisseur of music-based humor” (see John Bishop’s article in the Diapason) and truer words were never spoken. WCRB Saturday Night was every bit as much of an education as graduate school was for me. It introduced me to a world that I had actually glimpsed before - my college friends had been big Lehrer fans, for instance, and I was already well on my way to becoming the rabid Danny Kaye fan that I am today. But to listen to this show was to join a veritable banquet of wit and culture - nothing snobby, snooty, or smarty-pants about it. It was a combination of silliness and keen observation, all packed into the late night hours.
I love TV and movies, and radio has not occupied nearly as much time in my life, but I have to say - it has provided some of the best hours of pure fun and stimulation for the imagination I have ever experienced.