Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Remembering Radio's Golden Years

I couldn’t help to think about radio when I heard on the news last week that Art Linkletter had died at the age of 97. I also thought about radio when I was channel surfing through the television dial on Sunday afternoon during the 94th running of the Indy 500. You see, my first recollections of Art Linkletter wasn’t from watching him on television, it was from listening to him on the radio….on WJR to be specific. And I can still remember walking around the Clio Road and Stewart Street area on Memorial Day weekend in 1967 with a transistor radio listening to the Indy 500 on the radio. If you wanted to see the race – you had to shell out some big bucks and see a closed circuit television broadcast of the race on a big screen – probably at the IMA Auditorium.

Radio was more important in people’s life then it is today. Radio not only entertained, but it also informed and I can remember how radio in Flint, Michigan was used effectively to “keep the peace” during the riots of 1967. Flint didn’t go up in flames like Detroit or L.A. because a daytime only radio station – WAMM – got permission and stayed on past sunset. The extra broadcast time gave WAMM’s Sam Williams and Flint’s first black mayor, Floyd McCree a direct voice to the people to spread the word that violence in the streets wasn’t the solution and that everyone needed to keep cool,

Being born in 1954 – I’m just old enough to remember the decline of the golden age of radio. For some strange reason – I can remember being about three or four years old and hearing Lawrence Welk and Eddie Fisher’s radio programs on the car radio while our family was driving upnorth to Cheboygan for a family get-together. I can’t give you any logical explanation why I should remember those two programs – but I do.

My memories of listening to Art Linkletter’s “House Party” on the radio were more vivid. CBS television aired the tv version of “House Party” every afternoon at 2:30, but an twenty-minute abbreviated version of the show aired on the CBS Radio network and WJR at 1:10 every afternoon. They seldom aired the same show each day on the television and the radio – but it was still fun to listen to – especially the segment with the kids.

The radio version of Art Linkletter’s “House Party” had one of the best lead-in radio network shows that there ever was – The Arthur Godfrey Show. When it comes to the history of radio and television – Arthur Godfrey was in a league of his own and couldn’t be touch. He could make and break entertainers and if you got the seal of approval from Godfrey – you had it made – just like authors who’s books are featured on Oprah have it made today. He was the perfect pitchman who knew how to sell a product by talking directly to the people and sell he did – pitching Lipton tea and refrigerators by Frigidaire to the masses.

At one time – it was a big deal for a radio station to be able to secure the rights to air events like the Indy 500 and the Detroit Tigers – because it was the only place you could turn to for free live coverage of the events and radio stations were able to make lots of money selling local advertising in these broadcasts. Now airing these events aren’t a big deal for radio broadcasters – they’re just another place for broadcasters to place “inventory” (ads). And, when these events are aired on a radio station – the odds are pretty good that the radio board operator plugging in the local commercials in these broadcasts are probably watching the game on TV as they “work the game” on the radio.

So, it is with the passing of Art Linkletter and the running of the Indy 500 race that I share with you my memories of radio. I’m sure there will be another event or moment in our daily life that will again spark some pleasant memories of the medium of radio – who’s golden age has long since faded.

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