- Historic Sites
“program Coming In Fine. Please Play ‘japanese Sandman.’ ”
August 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 5
So Mr. Thompson, a hearty and very affirmative grocer by day, told little Vicky to “tune in tonight” because he was going to sing a song in Russian directed straight at Vicky and saying (if translated). “Vicky, eat your spinach.” That night we all tuned in. He sang in a tongue none of us rccognixcd except little Vitky, who translated the gist of the lyrics and took a new lease on the hated leaf. G. David Thompson soon left his Lang Avenue grocery store and his vocal career to go into steel, and then to build one of the world’s foremost private collections of modern paintings. He was, until his death in June, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art. Vicky, at fifty, now feels old enough to re vert to loathing spinach.
At five minutes to ten every night in the week, KDKA had a five-minute program called “The Arlington Time Signals,” a monotonously repetitive tone that burped every second for five minutes until, like a child forced to exhale after holding its breath too long, a single, strctched-out beep proclaimed the hour of ten. This expedition into a now neglected form of programming was treated with such solemnity in the upper echelons at Wcstinghousc that my father’s concerts had to end before g:gg or he would be “called on the carpet” the next morning for running into the Arlington Time Signals. What the time signals lacked as an aesthetic experience they made up for in purpose, since it was on the sounding of that first burp that all Wcstinghousc executives, wherever they were, would pull out their timepieces, stand as still as Lot’s wife, and await that last, long «(asp by which they would set their turnips. It was considered a public service to relay those baleful tones to the world each night.
I was in Grade 8-B in June, 1924, an election year, and Miss Arbogast was teaching us what a party convention was like. Since my family now had a superheterodyne set equipped with a cone speaker, my father thought it would I)C instructive as well as inspiring to have the whole eighth grade over to hear the Republican keynote address. He was a!so persuaded that my leather. Old Lady Arbogast, might remember the gesture when report cards came due.
The proposal unsettled my mother, since we had just moved to the house and it was not yet presentable: also it was far enough from school that a transportation problem would certainly present itself. The time of the keynote address—noon—would require preparation of fifty lunches, and eating them might conflict with listening to the keynote address.
Sweeping aside all these objections, my father offered to arrange for Mr. Thompson’s grocery to make and deliver fifty box lunches (a privilege it declined, leaving the job to my mother) and gallantly volunteered to drive the children from schoolhouse to radio set in a series of round trips: furthermore, as an encore, lie would return them to school in time for the afternoon session.
Tuesday, June 10, the day of the address, broke hot and dear. Mother was up early making sandwiches. At 11:30 A.M. my father was to leave the house to get the first load of children, but he was on one of his interminable phoi:e calls to musicians, which no amount of excited semaphoring could get him to abbreviate. At 11:55 he rand out to the Dodge and set out grimly on his first round trip. While my father was stul ferrying children back and forth like Saint Christopher, the keynote address had begun. The voice of Representative Theodore K. Burton (Republican from Ohio) battled its way through the static, bringing neitlnT information nor inspiration to the hungry pupils. Meanwhile, the food was running low, since the rolls had now been converted to ammunition aimed at the successive platoons of children as they arrived.
By the time Miss Arbogast staggered in with the last perspiring load the keynote address was finished, co’d cuts were all over the floor, the starving children were in an uproar, and it was clearly time for my father to start up the shuttle service back to school, which the last carload readied in time to hear the closing bell.
The keynote address itself, marred by static almost to the point of unintclligibility. was notable chiefly for its employment of the adjective “glorious.” which was applied in turn to Hag. party, country, tradition, heritage, past, future, and occasion. Yet it was the first time a national convention was ever broadcast, and it was an undeniably glorious event for the eighth grade—with the exception of Miss Arbogast.
Until 1926 radio, a local, home-town medium, held out against “nationalization.” Already the automotive field had been seized on by the three national giants, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Nationwide chain grocery stores were rapidly replacing the old neighborhood independents, and General Foods, General Mills, Colgate, Squibb, Stetson, and Hart Schaffner S; Marx were straddling the entire country with “national brand names.”
But radio, the most modern of all. was still old-fashioned enough not to have shaped up into a nationally uniform package. Every local station had its own homemade sound until late in the Twenties, when NBC sprang full armed from the brow of Zeus. Only then did radio begin to catch up with all the other canned goods that tasted the same in San Diego as in Kennebunkport. Along with national sports would come national soap operas; with “Amos ’n’ Andy,” the repetitive cigarette slogans: with H. V. Kaltcnborn and Raymond Gram Swing, hillbillies and Father Coughlin.