At Mid-20th-Century radio stations broadcast only on what is now called “talk” or “AM” radio. The static-free sound of FM radio was far in the future. Our radios gave us news, entertainment and music. And what music it was. The “highbrow” music lover had only to avoid “The Grand Ol Opry” and stations that played the music of Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Sr., Roy Acuff and others like them to enjoy some of the finest music ever written.
Those plaintive and nasal country sounds were more than offset by the glorious sounds provided every Monday evening by “The Bell Telephone Hour,” “The Firestone Hour,” “The Longines-Wittnauer Symphonette,” “The Cities Service Band of America.” Every Saturday afternoon Grand Opera was broadcast live from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House hosted by the suave Milton Cross. Adults who sat up late at night, teen-agers who listened quietly in their rooms or while cruising in their cars could always find the music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo or any of the other dozen or so well-known Swing Bands being broadcast live from one of the many ballrooms around the country. As for singers, well, we had the choice of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, June Christy, Peggy Lee and many other singers who had trained voices. Late at night we could tune to a broadcast from one of New Orleans, Chicago, or New York City’s elegant hotel dining rooms. Listening to sophisticated dance music to a light background noise of clinking silverware and crystal was the stuff of many fantasies for we who listened in the small towns of America. Those chic dining rooms were for people who had the money – if only for a night - to savor the combination of fine food, elegantly served, to the lush or bouncy music provided by a Big Band. We who lived too far away to consider going to such places, closed our eyes and dreamed of being in that splendor.
There was no generation gap so far as music was concerned. Our parents might enjoy “Country” music more than swing or vice-versa, but so did kids and young adults. The choice had nothing to do with age. We listened to the same music as our parents. I grew up listening to and enjoying The Grand Ole Opry and the Western Swing music of Bob Wills and his imitators along with the Big Bands and “Pop” singers. That was fine until I decided I wanted to become a high school band director. I idolized our band director, Evald Nordstrom, and although he did it subtlety he let me know that “country music” was the mark of an uneducated person who had no musical training or education. So I became a “musician,” scorning the twangy guitars and untrained voices of Lefty Frizzell, Little Jimmy Dickens and their ilk.
“Darling Jill,” my poster-child-for-ugliness 1937 Plymouth two-door sedan had a radio with a small speaker mounted right below its tuning dial and knobs. Mixed in with the static, especially when there were thunderstorms between my car and whatever radio station I was tuned-to, it put sound through that little speaker that was recognizable as music. In my Senior year I spent quite a few afternoons cruising around town on Saturday afternoons listening to The Metropolitan Opera. That earned me a reputation as sort of a “geek,” although that word wasn’t yet in the English language.
During the evenings families often sat around in the Living Room listening to the entertaining comedy of “Jack Benny,” “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Bob Hope” and the like. The news came on at 10:00 p.m. After that we could send chills up our spines listening to scary programs like “Inner Sanctum,” “I Love A Mystery,” and “The Shadow.” Then along about 1948 an astounding thing came to pass. A box came to town that could bring us not only the voices of faraway people; it also brought a moving picture of what they were doing. We ogled in awe and wonderment and without knowing it, surrendered our imagination to pixels on a glass screen.
As much as I loved the media of my era I must say that I yearn for what it must've been like to be swinging to Dorey and miller, swooning to Sinatra, grooving to Ella and the Count,and yes, singing to Bob Wills and Hank. I love them all and listen to them when I can today. What an incredible era!!
Hey Don, another great story. I have not tried it myself yet but i bet you could find some of those songs from that era and add them as background to you story and let the reader listen to the sounds of your time.
I have quite a few of them on cassette tapes. Trouble is I haven't the technical skill. (Translation: I haven't a clue as to how to do that.)