--Democratic campaign poster to re-elect Roosevelt, 1940..
                 AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL and CULTURAL MUSINGS:  Part One
              Early Radio and TV--Child's Play--The Bomb--Red Menace--Way Down Yonder


A day in October 1944--many "war babies" were born throughout the South. I was one of them.  Though I don't remember it, I'm sure I must have sat on my Mother's lap through many hours of wartime broadcasts and was right there when she tuned in to hear the VE-Day and VJ-Day celebrations.  (My Dad would not return home from the Pacific until late in 1945).  At that time, most people had at least a small table-model am-band radio.  The much larger models which incorporated record changers were also quite common; they took on the posture of fine furniture, and many were made of the finest solid woods--beautiful cabinetry.  I can vividly recall our large floor-model RCA Victor radio/record changer in its beautiful mahogany console.  I don't remember ever listening to this radio, but I do remember playing records on the turntable (my favorite at the time was Tony Pastor's "The Click Song").  The radio itself, like most of this genre, included the short-wave band.   During the war years, people spent a great deal of time listening not only to American stations but to others around the world as well.  The more popular stations had pre-printed calls right on the dial! (Imagine that in today's climate of call-letter changes).  Had I been just a fraction older at the time, I would have been hooked on  Tokyo Rose, Lord Haw-Haw, Charlie and His Orchestra, and all the other propagandist broadcasters (not to mention the great newsmen such as Edward R. Murrow),  much like some people today are hooked on internet chat rooms or tv soap operas.  I became hooked in the end, anyway:  in the past few years I have developed quite a collection of these broadcasts on tape, along with other War-related audio, video, and print material.  I find it hard to believe that Franklin Roosevelt was President and that the War was still being fought in MY lifetime!  Seems so very surrealistic somehow......


In 1953 when I was in the third grade, we got a "tv set".  It was a General Electric (my Dad was sold on that brand) in a nice wood cabinet with doors--17 inch screen.  I don't know that we could that comfortably afford it--televisions were very expensive in relation to the then-value of the dollar.  (The old RCA radio/turntable combo served as a trade-in, leaving us with no phonograph and only a table model radio.  My folks never played records, anyway).  In those days it was not so simple as just turning the tv on and begin watching.  The tubes took a while to "warm up", and the "rabbit ears" almost always had to be adjusted.  And then there was the problem of the "flopping" screen--the "vertical hold" control didn't always fix this most annoying of glitches.  We could "pick up" several stations:  WFMY Channel 2 in Greensboro, WSJS Channel 12 in Winston Salem (some 28 miles to the west), and Channel 10 in Roanoke, VA (I forget the station calls).  Channels 10 and 12 seldom "came in" good enough to watch for very long.  So we were stuck with Channel 2 which was CBS and, I think, some small amount of DuMont programming, and maybe some ABC.  TV, of course, did infringe upon peoples' radio listening habits.  On any given day for a good many years, there were separate radio and television versions of the same shows:  Arthur Godfrey, Amos 'N Andy, Your Hit Parade, many soap operas, etc.  Radio, however, was still very viable during this period (especially morning and afternoon drive-time), as it would take several years for literally everyone to acquire a television--tv sets were very expensive, and not every rural locale could even pick up a signal without benefit of  monster antennas on the tops of  homes, so it was a heavy investment for some.  There was to be no lasting chill cast on radio by the advent of television--the rock 'n roll phenomenon was right around the corner, and radio was about to reach its highest plateau yet by re-inventing itself so as to non-competingly co-exist with tv.  My real remembrances of both radio and tv begin about the same time.     
In school we were reminded constantly through the years that Edward R. Murrow was a native son.  I often tell people that Greensboro nurtured at least 4 well-known radio personalities.  Besides ERM, there's disc jockeys Rig (Rick) Dees and Jackson Armstrong (John Larsh).  Rig got his radio start in Greensboro (I was in the same school class with his older sister); John Larsh was in Greensboro at WCOG very, very early in his career, went on a whirlwind tour of cream-of-the-crop stations spanning more than 30 years and is now back home doing GREAT radio on WMQX Oldies 93.  Edward R. Murrow moved away from the area with his family when he was a child, so Greensboro was never fortunate enough to have him as a local radio personality, but a major local thoroughfare, Murrow Boulevard, is named for him.  And then there was Bob Poole, a native son who jumped around the country at various stations before finally bringing his Poole's Paradise show back home to WBIG.
I always looked forward to summer vacation.  I wanted to be on a vacation constantly, and the summers passed much faster than I would have liked.  School wasn't one of my favorite things.  Every June I would visit my aunt, uncle, and two girl-cousins who lived in a large country home in a beautiful setting 50 miles from Greensboro.  Some summers I would even go there twice for 2 weeks at a time.  What fun we had-- "prospecting for gold" on the hillside and "checking for cubbyholes" in the thick walls of the old homeplace (hoping to find concealed documents and treasures). The Korean War (some call it the Korean Conflict) was going on, and my cousin and I would play "38th Parallel" in the backyard on a little slope which had a small trench at the crest to channel rain runoff.  That trench was our imaginary 38th Parallel.  We had toy cars, tanks, guns, and soldiers, as well as forts made of rocks, and make-believe radio phones.  (Today this sort of child's play would not be considered "politically correct" in some circles.  I can't imagine that playing with such toys would ever emotionally or psychologically scar a child or come back to haunt later.  Such a totally foolish notion is "political correctness",anyhow). The American psyche was different then.

The summer of 1953 was "newsy".  In June of that year Queen Elizabeth II was coronated, and in July the Korean War drew to a close with the signing of the peace treaty.  We watched the Coronation over WBTV from Charlotte (a news film after the fact), but we tuned in to the radio for the news of the peace treaty.  If I remember correctly, there was a day or two of false promises before the treaty was actually signed, and we listened each day at appointed time only to hear that the signing would be delayed yet again.  When, finally, the signatures were laid,  jubilation was rampant among the grown-ups--the 3-year war was over, the boys were coming home.  At this time, people relied more on radio, rather than tv, for news--radio news was far superior and much more timely.  There was yet another event that summer which left a chill in the already frosty air:  the Rosenbergs (Ethel and Julius) were executed for selling defense secrets to the Russians.  My cousin and I continued to play "38th Parallel" for another summer or two as America became more and more consumed with "The Cold War".


The American psyche was different then, in 1953.  World War II had been over for give or take eight years, and another long military involvement had been sandwiched in between.  But, of course, the Wars didn't quite resolve everything--we had, since WWII's close, been fully engaged in a Cold War which would last for many, many years.  We lived with the spectre of "the bomb"; some even built bomb shelters in their back yards during this time--the fever was rampant.  In 1952-53, when I was in the 3rd grade, we were well-indoctrinated by an old-maid teacher who would tell us stories of how the Communists in Russia took people away in the middle of the night--and how that same thing could happen in America if they "took control".  She scared us--we were only 8 or 9 years old. Greensboro installed civil defense sirens all over town later on, and there were frequent public service spots on radio and tv about what to do in case of a nuclear blast.  Each Sunday on WFMY-TV, "The Big Picture", a weekly digest of U.S. Army propaganda, was aired-- assuring us that we as a people were strong against the enemy.  McCarthyism and the Red Scare had been in full swing for several years--many prominent and innocent (?) Hollywood stars, writers, and others in various high-profile positions not only were "blacklisted", but some were sent to prison, all because of their supposed sympathetic leanings towards, or membership in, The Communist Party, and all because of  Senator McCarthy's hearings on Capitol Hill which dragged on and on ad nauseum.  But Hollywood people weren't the only ones to be the targets of these witch-hunts:  we had a neighbor who worked for a federal agency and who came home in tears more than once because of the intimidating tactics used on her to try to coerce her into  signing the famous "loyalty oath".  I never knew whether she finally signed it or not, or whether she might have indeed been a communist sympathizer, but she did not lose her job.

Finally, in 1954, McCarthy began accusing the wrong people:  certain important officers in the U.S. Army.  This did not set well with our victorious Army General, President Eisenhower, and he brought the pressure needed to help cripple this crazed Senator from Wisconsin.  And one great newsman finished off Joseph McCarthy for good--Edward R. Murrow.  In a live CBS Television interview (1954) with the Senator, Murrow embarrassed and shamed him in one of tv's greatest moments.  Public support for the witch hunt waned, and The People were returned somewhat to at least a few of their senses from this bizarre paranoid trance.  In retrospect, the McCarthy era now seems fairly insignificant as history goes, though most unfitting, peculiar, and shameful for a country like ours. The real significance and shame, however, would begin 9 years later on a fateful November day in 1963.  Good ol' Ike's famous uttering, "Beware the military-industrial complex", found its Truth fulfilled in John Kennedy's assassination, and the Vietnam involvement would proceed on schedule. We have never recovered from what happened that day in Dallas--and we may never recover:  that one tragic event turned the tide and has led us to where and what we are today, taking us out of "Camelot" (?) and into a far worse place, no longer an "innocent (?) people".  More assassinations.  Implications that "Government" is involved.  Who to trust anymore?  Incivility, misguided welfare programs which only serve to further enslave and take control rather than free, the Mighty Buck, the corporate state, a government which shuns the idea of personal responsibility and "takes care of us" in order to empower itself over us.  Deep, deep scars.  The American psyche is different now. 
 

We watched a lot of tv on those hot summer nights back in the early-to-mid 50's at my cousins'.  And drank a lot of Cheerwine over crushed ice. Too, we were old enough to like more variety on tv, not just the "kiddie" shows.  The station was WBTV, Channel 3, from Charlotte.  My daytime favorites were "Strike It Rich" with Warren Hull ("The Show with a Heart") and "Queen for a Day" with Jack Bailey. I remember one of the "Queen for a Day" shows which featured a poor woman who had gotten her long hair caught in a washing machine wringer.  She had had to cut her hair away from the machine with scissors.  Her hair was not attractive in this state. She was teary-eyed on the show.  It was very funny at the time, yet not funny at all.  We couldn't believe it was for real.  All she wanted was to be Queen for a Day and to have a new hair fix, because she could not afford a permanent, or so she said. That's all she was asking, whereas some of the other contestants wanted much more expensive and frivolous gifts.  That poor kerchiefed woman didn't even get the applause-o-meter to register when the audience was voting for the new Queen for a Day.  I distinctly remember feeling very sorry for her.  Night-time tv on Fridays and Saturdays was very special--my cousin and I were allowed to stay up for as long as we wanted, long after my aunt and uncle had gone to bed for the night.  We often fell asleep at some point, awaking at 2 or 3 in the morning, old movies still going.  It was always "Wrestling from Hollywood", followed by the "Late Show", next the "Early Show" (or was it the "Late, Late Show"?).  Those old 40's movies were just the best!

One of the highlights of the summer of 1953 was the opening of the "By-Pass", a futuristic 4-lane divided highway stretching from Thomasville to Spencer, a distance of about 30 miles.  North Carolina had wonderful highways back then compared to some of its neighbors.  The "By-Pass" (US 29/70) would later become "Temporary I-85".  It remained that for many years until the new I-85 was built, at which time it became "Business 85".  It is fairly safe to say that North Carolina was at the time the most progressive state in the South in every way, and that may even hold true today.  Insofar as transportation is concerned, the state has had commuter trains up and running daily in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor for several years, and plans are moving along briskly for high-speed trains and more routes.

I would also visit my grandparents during the summer.  One set lived in the Sandhills area of North Carolina where the only "industry" was peaches.  Typically, my Grandfather would rise very early, usually 4:30 to 5:00 in the morning.  Grandmother would follow about an hour later, but of course, I'd usually sleep till 8 or 9.  Some mornings the radio would awaken me before first light.  I took a liking to a little station from Wadesboro which played bluegrass, country, and gospel, interspersed with the farm reports, news, and the all-important weather. The only tv set for probably miles around was at a general store next door.  On Saturday nights the whole community of 12 or 15 (mostly whites, but blacks were welcome, believe it or not)  would come to watch Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks aired on WBTV from Charlotte.  (Some of us had to sit on Coke crates).  Arthur's musical group was of the "hayride" or "jamboree" genre so popular in parts of the South at the time.  A little country gospel was part of the musical mix.  The sponsor of the show was Tuberose Snuff, and the words to the jingle were: "If your snuff's too strong it's wrong, get Tuberose, mild Tuberose."  This was North Carolina in the 50's.  (To this day, Arthur Smith is still a popular and beloved man in Charlotte and in North Carolina, although I'm sure Charlotte would just as soon forget about the Tuberose ads; ditto for WBT and WBTV.  But let us not forget our roots in the process).  The radio version of Arthur Smith's show was transcribed over WBT 1110 for many years.  (Back in Greensboro WFMY-TV Channel 2 had its own local show of this type:  "Saturday Night Jamboree".  Its popularity crossed most social strata, at least in the white community).  During the day while my Grandpa was working, I'd be busy playing outside with yard dogs or wandering through the peach orchard, and occasionally they'd even let me pump gas over at the store and "ring up sales" on the cash register.  It was a busy place in the summer, located on the route to Myrtle Beach. There was a peach packing house very close by, and I even "worked" there a little one summer (child labor!).  I also made the grave error (once only) of playing in the peach fuzz which was blown out through a roof stack each afternoon.  Around lunchtime every day or maybe a little later, the soap operas would start on the radio.  I'd listen with my Grandma to her favorites:  "Young Doctor Malone" and "The Guiding Light" are the ones I remember.  But we'd also hear "Wendy Warren with the News" and Gabriel Heatter.

My other set of grandparents lived an hour away from Greensboro in another part of The Piedmont region.  When Grandma saw me coming, she'd prepare me a huge helping of cake topped with jello and 2 flavors of ice-cream, served on one of those transparent depression-glass plates.  After eating that, I'd head to the living room and the player piano.  (It's regrettable that when she died, a neighbor got the piano and the song rolls for a small sum of money.  None of the family wanted such a large piece of furniture.  Hindsight is often better than foresight). Grandma's radio-listening habits consisted solely of the obituaries each weekday at noon.  A good bit of her time was spent in cultivating the many flower gardens around her house.  During her first marriage, she and my "blood" grandfather migrated to Texas for a period to try their hand at ranching.  It is said that the James Brothers, the famous outlaws, worked at the same ranch.. The Grandpa I remember was a step-grandfather.  He had several good sons by a previous marriage, 2 of whom were killed in the War.  A "star flag" (in memory of the family's war casualties) hung in their front window--always.  Many times, my parents and I would drive over from Greensboro just for the day.  And have a meal of Blackwelder's or Wink's Barbecue before returning home.  There's no barbecue quite like North Carolina barbecue. 

In the Spring of 1953 I was allowed to miss one whole week of school (3rd grade) to go on a road trip to New Orleans with my parents and a much older cousin and his wife and daughter (a girl, 2 years older than me).  All 6 of us set out in the middle of the night from Greensboro, all of us quite comfortable in that big black Dodge.  Apparently, people either travelled light in those days, or the trunk was enormous.  It took 2 hard days to do the 900 mile trip down, and 2 hard days to return ( virtually no 4-lanes).  So that left little time for New Orleans.  We took different routes going and returning: one way was the "northern" route through Birmingham and Meridian, the other was the "southern" route through Montgomery, Mobile, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  I do remember we witnessed very threatening springtime skies at one point, only to find that a major tornado had roared through Opelika/Auburn just ahead of us.  None of us had ever seen storm damage quite like that.  Meanwhile in New Orleans, what do you do with 2 kids who are deemed "too young" to venture into the French Quarter with their parents?  Luckily, the motel innkeeper baby-sat us.  I guess my cousin and I missed out on all the fun. I think our parents went to West End out by Lake Pontchartrain that night to visit the My-O-My Club and see the female impersonators.  It was the adventuresome and touristy thing for young couples to do.  (Remember, this was 1953).  Though I did miss out on that particular event, we did take a river cruise at night on the
SS President
; the grown-ups danced while my cousin and I were out on the deck running from one end of the boat to the other having a great time.  That's about all I remember of the trip, except for going to The Blue Room in The Roosevelt Hotel to see Peter Lynd Hayes and Mary Healy.  However, some of these
pictures
help to rekindle the memories. 



October 1953 and I'm already in the fourth grade.  I attended an elementary school on the edge of downtown Greensboro as that was more convenient for my parents than the neighborhood school.  Usually, my Mother and I would ride the city bus or electric trolley (operated by the Duke Power Company) for her to get to work and me to get to school.  Lots of people rode buses and trolleys back then.  But occasionally one or both of us would ride in with the next-door neighbors who drove into town everyday.  They'd always listen to Arthur Godfrey on their way to work.  We all were listening and were totally stunned the morning Mr. Godfrey fired one of his music-makers on the air. It was the talk of the town, and everyone tuned in each day after that in anticipation of another dismissal.  It happened several times, and the victims included Julius LaRosa, Marion Marlow and Frank Parker duo, and little Carmel Quinn.  I remember how "sulky" he would sound as he let someone go.  Like a dog that's done something bad.  One could detect something not quite right in Arthur Godfrey's voice.  At first everyone thought that maybe Arthur was having some sort of emotional breakdown.  But that thought quickly gave way to a feeling of  having been insulted.  His own employees were certainly insulted by his actions, but so was his radio audience.  It wasn't so much the actions per se, it was the manner in which they were carried out.  No one much liked Arthur Godfrey after these on-air escapades.  The firings were the result of the talents' acquisition of outside managers, something which Godfrey did not allow.

Arthur Godfrey no doubt was aired over Greensboro's WBIG, a typical "pillar of the community" type station.  Bob Poole was the ever-popular local radio personality.  He represented credibility, authority, strength, he-said-it-it-must-be-so.  The weather was always the important thing to know about, especially if there was some hint of ice or snow coming.  Bob Poole kept us advised.   One of the earlier songs I remember being played on WBIG:  "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd-a-Baked a Cake".  Pretty sappy, but perfectly befitting the times, and they ran the song into the ground, almost as bad as "Let Me Go Lover" a few years later.      

PART 2:  Diners, Nightclubs, Jukeboxes, and Movies
                 coming in the future
TABLE OF CONTENTS
page created 29 April 2000
SF
modified/amended 24 July 2000
01 September 2000
extensive revision 08 July 2001
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