Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Inanities of Old Radio

Some people love reality TV. Some people love daytime talk. Others wonder why anyone would waste their time with it.

Radio of the 1940s was no different. I find soap operas cheesy, many of the sitcoms eye-rollingly contrived and a few dramatic shows leaning on the crutch of ham-acting stereotypes. But put on Jack Benny or Jimmy Durante or a musical show with a great band, and I’ll tune in.

New York Herald-Tribune syndicate radio writer John Crosby wasn’t one to cut a lot of slack to radio. He praised the good and ridiculed the bad as he saw it. I’m going to pass on two of his columns written within two weeks of each other in 1948. The first is from November 3rd and spotlights a potpourri of radio tidbits he almost greets with incredulity. Interestingly, someone in 1948 thought of the idea of those annoying TV bugs that plaster every channel today. He rightfully is aghast. The second column is from October 25th where he facetiously bemoans the deterioration of the radio jingle. I must admit I only remember the Pepsi jingle co-written by announcer Alan Kent. How could anyone hate it? By the way, Jack Bleeck’s saloon was right next to the Herald-Tribune. Imagine putting a bar next to a newspaper office.

Radio In Review

Small Trends
TODAY is our day for small trends, the smaller the better for little happenings in radio of minute consequence and virtually no significance.
A man gets tired of handing down sweeping judgments every day; every man should have a day of rest devoted exclusively to any minutiae he happens to have lying around. I have a whole bag-ful at my elbow. Here are just a few.
The announcer on “We, the People” last week summed up the apathy characteristic of this election with magnificent though unconscious irony in a routine announcement which went: “Next Tuesday, election night, ‘We, the People’ will not be heard.”
A FEW WEEKS AGO in the soap opera “When a Girl Marries”, the tangle of misunderstanding which characterizes that as well as all other soap operas suddenly cleared.
Nobody was at cross purposes with anyone else. No one was frustrated about anything. No one was struck with hysterical blindness or, more importantly, with even the fear of approaching blindness. For one day, every blessed soul on “When a Girl Marries” was blissfully happy. As if that wasn’t enough to shake my faith in the established order of things, there was the case on “Suspense” of Ray Milland playing the part of one of those tough, extraordinarily competent detectives who is tracking down a murderer.
HE THOUGHT he had his man, a very suspicious character, but the guy wouldn't answer questions.
In a moment of anger, the cop slugged the murder suspect, who instantly dropped dead.
The rest of the story was devoted to Milland’s efforts to beat a murder rap himself. I can’t think what drove the writer of that program to shatter an ancient tradition in such an uncouth manner, to make a cop behave in a way that no cop has ever behaved on the radio. Iconoclasm? Desperation? Or simply the belief that radio hasn’t long to live anyway and we might just as well start breaking up the joint right now?
ON “LADIES BE SEATED” the other day, a woman was presented with a question which would tax the intellect of a 3-week-old child. What state, asked Tom Moore, the emcee, is distinguished by orange groves, mineral deposits and gold?
“Illinois,” said the lady.
Mr. Moore sighed and threw in a few more clues. The state he had in mind, said Moore, was known for its cinema and sunshine; the capital was Sacramento and the theme song was, in garbled version, “Da da da da, here I come.”
In the end Moore had to tell her the right answer was California.
“I’m from Florida,” the lady informed him grimly, “and I don't want to publicize that state on the radio.”
ONE OF THE MORE horrifying new ideas, recently put forth by the magazine “Tele Tech”, is that of identifying both sponsor and station continuously throughout a television program with a little sign on the lower left hand corner of the television screen.
Like this:
“As suggested for TV, the plan would answer repeated inquiries from video audiences: ‘What station is this’ and ‘Who is the sponsor.’” Anyone around here been asking those questions?

Radio In Review
The Compulsive Drinker
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in Bleeck’s saloon the other night, drinking more than was good for them and singing old folk songs and some of the more recent ones. About midnight, the quartet, a seedy but determined bunch of singers, began, as is their custom at that hour, that old English chantey which Roes:
“It's delicious yum yum yum.
“It's delightful. Order some.
“Now demand it. What's the name?
“Piel’s light beer of Broadway fame.”
After they finished, Fogarty, the red-headed bass of this outfit, said mournfully: “They don't write songs like in the good old days.” It's a complaint familiar to most of the drinkers there, especially after midnight.
“Now,” he continued pugnaciously, “you take a grand old number like ‘Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot.’ Nobody is writing songs like that any more.” He began singing a snatch:
“Nickel, nickel, nickel, nickel.”
“They took that out,” Roberts, the tenor, reminded him. “It isn’t a nickel any more. It’s six cents.”
“Inflation,” said Fogarty sadly, “It’s even ruining the old songs. And the new songs you can’t sing at all. Now you take a song like this song I heard yesterday.” He sang in his watery bass:
“When the values go up, up, up
“And the prices come down, down, down.
“Robert Hall this season
“Will tell you the reason.
“Low overhead. Low overhead.”
He broke off in disgust. “What sort of song is that, I ask you? ‘Low overhead. Low overhead.’ Sir William Gilbert would turn over in his grave. Man can’t open his mouth on these new lyrics.”
Roberts, a dreamy and timid little drunk, spoke up. “There’s another one going the rounds that’s even harder.” He sang it.
“Don’t be afraid to look at your hands
“When you get through scouring pots and pans.
“Use Ajax, new miracle cleanser
“With exclusive foaming action.”
Every one agreed that last line foamed in the wrong places. I watched Roberts closely after that one because he is a strange little guy, what the psychiatrists call a compulsive drinker. In fact, he suffers from a lot of funny compulsions, a pushover for an advertising man. Sure enough, he started looking at his hands guiltily. He probably never scoured a pot or pan in his life but the thought had been put in his mind that he was afraid to look at his hands. I bet anything he scurried around to the grocery store the next day and bought some of that miracle cleanser.
Every one of those songs that demanded you do something, Roberts went and did it, simply because he didn’t believe in taking any chances. “Don’t be half safe. Don’t be half safe. Don’t be half safe,” was his philosophy, sung to the tune of “The Volga Boatman.”
I feel sorry for this little guy because I think singing commercials have wrecked his life. I remember the night we were all sitting around the back room at Bleeck’s, singing. Roberts had this girl with him and Roberts, for no special reason, began singing—all by himself for no one else knew the words—that splendid old ballad
“You can say yes to romance.
“Be dainty and don’t take a chance.
“Soft as a lover’s caress
“Vote for happiness.”
Well, sir, this girl followed instructions to the letter; the following week she said yes to romance, married poor Roberts and has made his life miserable ever since. There’s only one of these songs that ever did Roberts any good. That's the one that goes:
“Today is Tuesday. Today is Tuesday.
“Time for Adams, candy coated gum.”
Up until the time that one got on the air, Roberts used to wander around all day Tuesday thinking in his confused way that it was Thursday, Now he's hep to the day of the week but come to think of it. I don’t know what good that does him either.
Just then the subject of these speculations spoke up: “I got to get home. Just one more, fellows.”
And he began and we all joined in on that rollicking little number:
“Kasco! Kasco! Dogs all love it so.
“What a meaty treat is Kasco.
“Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
“He’s heading for the kitchen and his

1 comment:

  1. Listening to Jack's late 40s shows, I always find the Lucky Strike ads of the day an amazing listen in a perverse sort of way, in how they throw waves of different voices at you and come at the pitch from about 15 or 20 different angles in the span of 60 seconds.

    I wouldn't say they're without question the hardest of hard-sell ads ever made, but they are relentless and definitely a contender for the top spot.