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Yesteryear distractions

GAYS MILLS - We are a Wisconsin Public Radio household. We keep the radio on and tuned to WPR for several hours every day. Wisconsin is blessed with a great public radio organization and features informative, educational, and entertaining programming. If you don’t believe that, try driving across the country sometime and sample what other states offer in public radio. It’s pretty paltry by comparison.

One interesting program available on WPR is Old Time Radio. On Saturday and Sunday nights from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m., WPR plays classic radio shows from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It’s fun to hear vintage shows like ‘The Lone Ranger,’ ‘Dragnet,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Sgt. Preston of the Yukon,’ ‘Our Miss Brooks,’ ‘Richard Diamond,’ and many others. They even include advertisements of the time, which are interesting in their own right.

Hearing these shows never fails to trigger memories for me. For example, a Hopalong Cassidy show, 1951, I may have actually heard that one. I was six years old in 1951 and my family and I could very well have been gathered around the old Zenith console radio (or was it a Philco?) to hear Hoppy and his sidekick, California, solve some kind of problem in 30 minutes or less. In its beautiful wooden cabinet, the big round dial of that tube-bearing classic radio glowed with a soft light and connected us to the outside world. 

I’ve often wondered what the adults of the generation that first got radios thought of that giant leap forward in technology. In the early 40s. most families were just getting radios and they soon became a central feature of family life. They weren’t just on, just background noise, they were listened to, as in sit down around it and pay attention. Families generally had one radio in a good central location, not one in every room like we see televisions today. I doubt if parents worried that their kids were getting “too much radio time” since listening to evening news and entertainment was a family affair.

Then, sometime in 1953 we got our first TV set. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just created a game that I was absorbed in at the time. The game involved a serving tray flipped upside down and propped up on a coffee cup under one end. The rolled metal edge of the tray made a perfect channel to finger-flip a marble up with just the right amount of umph so that it stayed on the upper end of the tray and didn‘t come back down the other side. This was like a very primitive pre-video game and I would try to see how many marbles I could get lodged on the upper end without knocking one down.

Just as I was about to ever so gently get a fifth marble up to stay on the top of the tray, a man delivered a television set to us: a surprise my dad had arranged. He plugged it in, adjusted the rabbit ear antenna, showed us how to deal with the horizontal and vertical holds, pointed out which three channels we could get, and left.  

Needless to say, my game was forgotten as my brothers, sister and I marveled at the wonderful new addition in the living room. It was the dawn of a new era and that TV was a supreme attraction, and distraction, in our lives.