Radio/TV Eras


I grew up during the early days of the "radio era" (at least the days when it became possible to listen to programs broadcast from a distance) and have witnessed the vast improvements in that media over the years, obviously in the matter of sound; however, one of the most interesting aspects of the "television era" has been watching not only the fantastic improvements in the technology - sound, picture, spontaneity, immediacy, access worldwide, etc. - but in the changes of the people involved. This, of course, has to do with the aging process perhaps more than anything else.

As a small boy in the 1930s listening to a two-part radio, I listened to the noonday broadcast from Louisville's Howell's Furniture Store of the Georgia Wildcats, a bluegrass/country music band led by Pappy Clayton McMichen. During the 40s, when radio was much improved, I listened to the "big bands" perform, especially late at night from all the clear-channel stations (at least 50,000 watts) from St. Louis to New Orleans to Atlanta to Nashville, etc. In the genre of "popular music," this was/is the most listenable, certainly the most civilized, music, much, if not most of it performed during the World War II years 1941-45. However, except for the performers who made a successful transition from radio to TV, I never had a clue as to their appearance or to their groups as they performed.

Not so with TV. It has been interesting through the years to notice how TV performers changed as they got older, both in appearance and performance. I've always taken in every televised performance possible of symphony orchestras. I'm reminded of the percussionist with one of the orchestras who was bald, then suddenly sported a full head of hair, then became totally bald again, the conclusion being that, while it may have made him look younger, a "rug" was too bothersome to wear and might blow away in a stiff wind.

Watching the changes in hair color has been interesting - the overnight changes the most interesting. I'm reminded of the bassoonist in another symphony who went perfectly gray, then suddenly had no gray, then just as suddenly became gray again; or, the concert-mistress who took over her job as a trim violinist, became chubby, and then slimmed down again, at least somewhat. The conductors have been interesting, too, with the wrinkles setting in, much of the hair disappearing, and the changes in costume. I've watched as some musicians retired, just disappeared one night. There was the flutist who wore a ponytail, but finally had to give it up because his hair disappeared to the point that not even a pig's tail would have sufficed.

One thing that has been very surprising has been the fact that the people play for years on end, actually growing old in their profession right before the eyes of the public. The same is true with other TV programming. Watching the news-anchors has been fun. I remember the evening when an anchor on a major network showed up with red hair that had normally been at least salt-pepper. I didn't see him again for many days, the time it probably took for enough growth to take place to get rid of what was the funniest change I've seen. I imagine the initial change was designed for a "minor adjustment" (this guy was/is getting old), but someone must have mixed the wrong combinations of dyes.

Watching someone age could also be sad, Bob Hope being an example. Perhaps the most entertaining figure of the century, he carried his age with great dignity, however, and never attempted to perform anything he couldn't do well. He was also simply a delightful character, and his history of entertaining troops, besides being hilariously done, gave a personalized window on the wars that couldn't have been produced any other way. He was a gem. There have been others, however, who could never understand that their abilities had been ravaged by age, and that they should have stepped down while they were still ahead. They probably still made money, but their sad decline blurred the memory of what they once were.

Perhaps the most striking differences have been in those members of the "rock" genre, though there are many different kinds of that music, to much of which I've listened. Much, if not most, of it came on line as the "drug culture" and "hippiedom" came on line and have continued to flourish. Members of these groups changed drastically in appearance, the use of drugs making a huge difference in their appearance and, of course, being the reason for everything from premature burnout to death itself. This has indeed been sad. Some performers, such as Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton, have retained their virtuosity, however, and continue to be headliners justifiably. There are multitudes of others, of course, and most listeners/viewers could make their own lists.

One could go on and on, but let a simple poem sort of say it all.

It Is the Music

It is the music…big-band stuff
From forty, fifty years ago,
And seldom played now - not enough -
Just heard on public radio;
He played the disks once…loved the sound
And thought how bittersweet the years -
Those teens plus some…of shaky ground…
Now, memories…that could bring tears;
It is that music…seldom sounds
- Just Saturdays on radio -
No longer does he play those sounds,
Too much to do, somewhere to go;
It is the feeling…sweet caress,
So palpable it seems to fill
A strong cocoon-like, warm recess -
A shivery twinge, an inward thrill;
It is the sound…of times long spent,
When youth meant life was always there,
But now the sound…marks strong lament,
When age means life is soon nowhere;
And so, he listens…thinks - too late -
Of all the things he might have done…
It is the music…out of date…
That warms…but mocks those dreams, undone;
And yet…that sound…so civilized…
Of love, of wars, and all that jazz
Is still the song, now realized,
Of joy…when age is all one has.