A return to old radio shows
September 5, 2006
I’ve been having major trouble with my back for the past eight months, a condition that precludes my favorite reading position: lying in bed on my left side, book propped on a pillow under the reading lamp, my head cupped in my hand.This position over the years produced what I called my “reading elbow,” which my granddaughter described as a “third heel,” and no doubt exacerbated my back problems. The upshot is that I now read sitting at my kitchen table, both uncomfortable and unenticing, so now I’m reading a lot less and listening to books on tape and CDs a lot more, lying flat on my back.My selections at the library are somewhat hit and miss; I’ll listen to anything read by George Guidall, preferring (call me sexist) male readers over females, who tend to be too shrill, avoiding those with foreign accents who tend to be unintelligible and disliking those who race through the manuscript or (I suspect) have been speeded up by producers needing to fit it into a limited time frame.A few weeks ago I came across CDs of Sherlock Holmes Radio Theater, a series of half-hour radio shows that were so wonderful they propelled my into an Amazon search for more oldies, and I have since been floating along in yesteryear with Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Fred Allen, Inner Sanctum and Jack Benny – shows which I listened to religiously when I was a kid, except for Inner Sanctum which I always snapped off at the first creak of the door.I love the sound effects, the little musical interludes to indicate the passage of time, and the single sponsorship of each show: an ad at the beginning, one in the middle, one at the end, so down home and direct compared to the flash, flash, flash of current ads that leave you puzzling about what they’re trying to sell (“Ask your doctor.”)Accommodating only three ads, the shows are LONG and some of them, Gildersleeve especially, are really funny. They are also very politically incorrect (think Amos ‘n’ Andy) and incredibly sexist (think Father Knows Best), but they depict what life was like during the war years and in the boring, postwar letdown of the latter ’40s.Listeners were urged to buy war bonds, booklets which even kids filled with 10-cent and 25-cent stamps for $18.75, to be redeemed in ten years for $25, and to save metal, paper and rubber for the war effort. I was especially touched by a public service announcement asking for donations to fight polio, a paralyzing pediatric disease that scared the hell out of every kid in America, which was eradicated in the ’50s with the Salk vaccine. The directions were simple: “Send your money to The White House, Washington, DC.”Anyway, it’s been a trip. “Fight headaches three ways: Bromo Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer,” intoned over the background of a puffing steam engine. Cure neuritis and neuralgia, conditions de jour which have what – disappeared like polio, or are now defined by other names? Ask your doctor.Su Lum is a longtime local who wouldn’t want to relive those years but enjoys glimpses into the past. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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