LIFE ON THE PLAINS – Entertainment: radio and early TV

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, entertainment was a little different from today. Television sets were few and far in between around The Plains.

So, what did we do?

In our household there was no television back in those late ‘40s and early ‘50s. But we had a great RCA radio, with attached record player. Our dad, who was an amateur finish carpenter by hobby, build this beautiful cabinet where all the “modern electronics” of the time were kept. During the week, we didn’t listen to much radio because after supper, it was homework and then bedtime. I was less than 10 years old.

But come the weekend, it was a different story. I have to preface this by saying our mother held all the cards in this situation. What we got to listen to, and for how long, was determine by how we had behaved during the week. I have to confess that raising four boys was not an easy task, especially when five to six years separated the two older from the two younger.

Saturday nights were the favorite. First, there was Gunsmoke. Yes, that show existed back then, but only on radio. I don’t remember who played whom, or any of the actual story lines. I just liked to hear when Marshal Dillon prevailed over the bad guys. When were they ever going to learn you couldn’t beat Marshal Dillon?

Then came the darker side. The show was called The Inner Sanctum. It was a kind of horror show, and again I don’t remember story lines. The parts that intrigued me were the beginning and end of the show, when you would hear the squeaking door open at the start of the program, and close at the conclusion. I guess I was too young to realize the horror that took place in between.

Other times, the radio was on and music was played. The “Victrola” was used a lot, playing 78 rpm LP records.

On Sunday mornings, after church, we would go to our grandfather’s place, which was next door because we shared a duplex, and listened to the radio. His favorite show was a French version where they only played Canadian songs. The show, hosted by Edgar Poulin, was called La Melodie Francais, which translate to “French Melodies”. However, my grandfather would jokingly call it La Maladie Francais, which translate to the “French Sickness.” My grandfather would sit in his chair next to the radio, and actually dance in place with his feet, without leaving his seat. Quite a show!

And finally one day – I remember the date – it was my birthday in October 1958 when I turned 11 years old, my Uncle Gil came to the house and installed an antenna on the roof. Those were starting to sprout like mushrooms around the city.

In the living room, stood a 21-inch, Sears Silvertone, black and white television floor console, with its assortment of electrical tubes to power it. How many remember when a TV repairman would actually come to the house to replace them when one burned out? On the front of the TV was the on/off switch, and the dial to select the channel – there were three available (there were only 12 numbers on the dial 2-13). Also on the front were horizontal hold and vertical hold knobs to prevent the picture from rolling up and down or side to side. On top of the television set was a box with a dial that controled the antenna on the roof, to point in the direction from which the signal was coming. Quite an ingenius marvel back in the day.

Back then, most TV stations signed off at midnight. The list of shows my parents never missed were The Milton Berle Show, The Jimmy Durante Show (“Good night, Mrs. Callabash, wherever you are.”), Lawrence Welk (my mother liked the champagne bubbles), The Honeymooners (“One of these days, Alice, pow, to the moon!”)

Later on, you would be able to watch the Red Sox doubleheaders every Sunday, with stars like Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, Frank Malzone – my favorite player – Jim Piersall, my second favorite player who I had the opportunity to meet many years later. Some football with the New York Football Giants – they were so referred to because, at the time, the New York Giants baseball team played at the Polo Grounds before moving to San Francisco. I remember Sam Huff – my favorite player – Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Roosevelt Greer, Y.A.Tittle, etc., and remember watching the “greatest football game ever played” – when the Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game in 1958.

As the years went on, we got our first color TV in 1964. Television had improved a lot by then, and the selection of channels grew to five.

Not much time was spent in front of the TV, as we were highly encouraged to play outdoors with our friends. The television was a treat, not an electronic babysitter.

Those were good years, something that will never be seen again, on The Plains.


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