Trivial Pursuits

That little radio

thatlittleradioI’ve been looking for a photo of that little radio for a long time. I finally found it–via The Google–on Pinterest. That little radio has real significance in my life. I grew up as the third of four siblings in a noisy household. I was probably the biggest source of the noise, as I was either playing the drums down in the basement or listening to my sister’s record player. I’m sure I used that thing far more than she ever did. Anyway, this is about that little radio pictured here. It’s a Ross Micro Ten Transistor Radio, made in Hong Kong.

So, I bought that little radio for myself in 1969. I know it was ’69 because I heard the debut of David Bowie’s Space Oddity on it, but I’ll get to that in a second. It was a pretty big deal that I was able to buy it because money was tight in those days and I was just a 12-year-old kid. I didn’t get an allowance like some kids got, so somehow I earned the money to buy that little radio. I believe I bought it at a Radio Shack store, but I could be mistaken. But I can clearly recall unboxing the thing when I got home. I was so proud of it. And just as you see in the photo, it was tiny and had the key ring thing. It was a beauty. And it sounded great to my ears.
That little radio was my personal window to the world beyond my family and school. I didn’t get around a whole lot beyond my own neighborhood. My only means of escape were the family television in the living room, and my radio. And since someone usually was already watching something I wasn’t interested in, I was left to that little radio.

That little radio made me understand how important radio was in the decades before mine. Until television became so dominant in the 60s and 70s, radio was…well, radio was it. It was still hanging on to its past glories in many markets, by the early 70s.

You know how you remember certain events by where you are and who you are with? For me the “who” in many cases was that little radio.
It came with an earphone–one of those cheap cream colored things–but as it was mono, you had to decide which ear the earphone sounded better in. If you wore it too long, your ear would hurt like hell. It had almost zero fidelity, but it made the music more personal for me, so I  sacrificed ear comfort for that little radio.
I carried it with me everywhere, even risking taking it to school one day (but I probably chickened out of trying to use it in the open), so I have a lot of memories tied to it.
As I said earlier, I remember hearing Space Oddity for the first time. I was lying in bed, just zoning out and listening to that little radio. When I listened in bed, I often put it under my pillow, which somehow improved the sound, and I would fall asleep to the sounds of that little radio. More than once I woke up to a dead battery.
I remember using it while I was working a summer job doing yard work. This was through a program called YES, the Youth Employment Service. I probably signed up because a friend was doing it, but I promptly forgot about it. So I was a little annoyed when I was eventually called for a job. I mean, it was summer vacation, you know? You want me to work? Of course, I did, because I’m not an asshat. My mother would drop me off at whatever house was requiring my services, the homeowner would point out what needed to be done, and I did it. And accompanying me on those jobs was that little radio, tucked in a shirt pocket with the ear plug in my left ear.
The deejays on WABC (station of choice back then) were like friends who I looked forward to hearing from each day. They had cool patter between songs that you just don’t hear anymore. That may not be a bad thing now that I think about it. Back then, though, that’s what the groovy jocks like Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, and Cousin Bruce Morrow did. It was very rhythmic and slightly sing-songy.
And they played. The. Best. Music. Evah.
If you take a look a the pop charts of the day, you realize what a golden era it was. I had a ringside seat with that little radio playing throughout my job and later back at home. That little radio was the soundtrack to my teen years.
And then…
And then…
I don’t remember any specific event–like losing it or breaking it–but at some point I didn’t have that little radio any longer. I have a hazy memory, which may or may not be real, of seeing it in a box of junk from one of the few times I cleaned my room.
I had moved on to another radio which I’m sure sounded better (remember, this is before Walkmans and such), but the interesting thing is I don’t remember it. Nor do I remember any of the many other radios that followed.
But I remember that little radio.


29906170001_4248494398001_video-still-for-video-4248484810001Last night I watched the finale of The Late Show With David Letterman. I have been a fan since 1980 when I was one of the (apparently) few people who witnessed his morning talk show on NBC. I was living in Florida, staying temporarily in my great-uncle’s double-wide mobile home in Pompano Beach until I found my own place. As the “new kid in town,” I didn’t know too many people, and pretty much my only source of entertainment was my trusty little black and white portable television, with the funky whip antenna that had to be positioned just right to get a clear picture.

I had a night shift job at a convenience store called Majic Market, so my mornings were free to just relax. One morning I discovered this goofy gap-toothed guy with a pronounced mid-western accent doing a sort of talk/variety show. It was The David Letterman Show and it was his first attempt at network television. It was definitely not your typical daytime talk show, which in those days was sort of defined by the likes of The Merv Griffin Show and The Mike Douglas Show—super tame (or is it lame?) and targeted to the blue-haired adult demographic. Letterman was young and edgy (as they say) and dared to go beyond the accepted boundaries of daytime television with gags and stunts you wouldn’t see elsewhere. And sometimes the “guests” were actually part of the show’s writing staff who appeared as characters. I particularly remember Edie McClurg, a wonderful character actor who would appear regularly as Mrs. Marv Mendenhall, giving “updates” on the most mundane topics. She was hilarious and underappreciated, in my book.

But I’m way off the subject I came here to write about, which was finales.

The Late Show With David Letterman finale was a memorable one, but it was just one of many that come to mind. After all, I already saw Letterman do a “final show” when he ended Late Night with David Letterman in the messy aftermath of an NBC contract dispute. The network had held out The Tonight Show as sort a carrot-on-a-stick to him for years, and there seemed to be no one better suited to replace Carson than Letterman. Even Carson thought so. But instead, NBC gave The Tonight Show to Jay Leno, and Letterman packed his bags for the more welcoming CBS. If you’re interested, there’s a fascinating book on the subject called The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno and the Network Battle for the Night.

In thinking back on these “final shows” I recall a number of other memorable finales that were momentous in their own right. These include, not in chronological order:

  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson—I grew up watching Carson almost every night, even when I was far too young to be up that late. I shed a tear when he did his finale.
  • Late Night with David Letterman—As mentioned above.
  • The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno—I have to confess I wasn’t a big Leno fan, partly because I thought Letterman should have originally gotten The Tonight Show instead of him, and partly because his show, in my opinion, just wasn’t very funny. I wasn’t alone. Leno drew lots of criticism from other comedians who said he had lost his edge and his comedy was lazy. It wasn’t until 2014, when Leno was a guest on Jimmy Fallon’s version of The Tonight Show that he showed what he was capable of. He was extremely funny—because he didn’t have to be “The Tonight Show Guy” anymore and could do and say what he wanted.
  • Late Night with Conan O’Brien—The relatively unknown ex-Simpsons and Saturday Night Live writer replaced Letterman, and after a rather shaky start, built a popular show. He couldn’t know what was in store when he was later named Leno’s successor on The Tonight Show. Ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Jimmy Fallon took over the Late Night desk, from O’Brien, until opportunity came a-knockin’.
  • The Tonight Show Starring Conan O’Brien—Conan got one of the rawest deals in television history when NBC didn’t give him the time needed for his unique brand of humor to catch on with a Tonight Show audience that was conditioned by Leno.  Leno weaseled his way back behind the Tonight Show desk after the spectacular failure of his Jay Leno Show at 10p.m. that lasted less than 5 months. Conan would get his own show on the TBS network, but more important, he got the time to build his audience.
  • The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno—Again. Finally. Jimmy Fallon is off to a good start as the newest host.
  • The Colbert Report—As Stephen Colbert prepares to take over Letterman’s seat on The Late Show (isn’t it funny that so many of these events involve two programs?), I am reminded that it will also soon be time to witness another finale: the end of Jon Stewart’s version of The Daily Show.
  • M*A*S*H—At one time the final show held the record for largest viewing audience.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show—The last scene where she turned off the light in the WJM newsroom was very touching.
  • Newhart—With possibly the best last scene in the history of television.
  • Cheers—A long drawn-out affair but still good.
  • Roseanne—One of the stranger finales. I had lost touch with the show for several seasons, so the ending, in which Roseanne revealed that the events of previous eight seasons had been part of a story she was writing or something, came out of left field for me.
  • Seinfeld—I wasn’t a real fan of the show. In fact I’d only seen a handful of episodes. But it was a much-hyped event, so I watched. I think I could have found a better use for my time.
  • Friends—Again, I rarely watched the show and the finale was over-hyped. Oddly, I don’t remember what happened.
  • Breaking Bad—An amazing show and brilliant finale.
  • How I Met Your Mother—I discovered this show late in the game (thanks Netflix) but was in time to see and appreciate the end.

And while I’m at it, there have been a few non-television finales that I remember well.

  • Peanuts—This one was especially poignant because Peanuts creator Charles Schulz died in his sleep the day before that final strip, announcing his retirement, ran.
  • Calvin & Hobbes—One of my all-time favorite strips. We knew the end was coming, and even though the final strip was upbeat and positive—”It’s a magical world, Hobbes,ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”—it was still sad to see.
  • For Better Or Worse—Unlike most strips where the characters are frozen in time, we watched the Patterson family grow up and grow old and sometimes die. Lynn Johnston explored new territory with what I think was the first “out” character in mainstream comics with Michael’s best friend Lawrence.

Finales that often get talked about but which I didn’t see include:

  • The Sopranos—I didn’t have HBO
  • Mad Men—I watched a couple episodes, but never got into the show.
  • Six Feet Under—Never saw it
  • Prison Break—Never saw it
  • Friday Night Lights—Never saw it
  • …you get the picture

So much for the All-American football hero

20140130-163946.jpg The NY Post has a story today headlined “Eli, Giants ran fake ‘game worn’ gear scam: lawsuit.
It involves a charge that the squeaky clean quarterback and key personnel in the NY Giants organization colluded to sell jerseys and helmets supposedly worn by him to unsuspecting memorabilia collectors.
Granted the suit was launched by a guy who carries a grudge against the team already, and it was printed in Rupert Murdoch’s rag, but the evidence seems pretty convincing. Collectors began complaining that the items didn’t have the same marks ( scuffs? Dirt streaks?) as were visible in pictures taken during the games in which they were supposedly worn. And then there’s an incriminating email trail where the team’s equipment manager openly discusses the fake gear. Not good.
According to the suit, Manning went along with the ruse because he wanted to keep the original items for himself.
It will be interesting to watch this play out, but the bigger question is, how widespread is this? Memorabilia collecting is a huge industry, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn of other teams and players doing much the same thing.
Grab the popcorn.

Inside Frankenstein

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff) 2While we’re jumping into NaNoWriMo this month, it might be interesting to see what was going on in the minds of some famous authors of days gone by. This site is an ongoing project looking at the notebooks of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. The site compares handwritten notebook pages (not surprising since they predate the typewriter) alongside typed pages for easy reading. They offer a fascinating glimpse into Shelley’s creative process. Interesting reading. (And yes, I know the image here is not really representative of the novel, but it is, in its own way, an iconic image of Frankenstein’s monster, so there.)

Halloween classic

newspaper - CopyToday marks the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles’ classic radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Legend has it that the broadcast launched widespread panic in the U.S., causing some to commit suicide rather than be defeated by supposed aliens. Given the era–the rise of Hitler in Germany and the beginnings of World War II, while still reeling from the effects of Great Depression–it’s not that surprising that people would fall for the idea that we were being invaded by Martians. How afraid they actually were, and how widespread the supposed panic was is a matter for debate.

The broadcast is, after all, pretty convincing, especially if you happened to tune in late–after the disclaimer that it was a dramatic production. PBS had an excellent program on last night (which you can watch online here) that explores the broadcast and its effects.

If you’ve never heard the original broadcast, you can hear it online in many places, including YouTube and The Internet Archive. It’s a great program and one that you should really listen to without distraction if possible, for the full effect.

There is a nice in-depth analysis of the program and its effect here, including mention of  a BBC Radio 4 program that cast some suspicion on the claims of widespread panic.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ series, which last week examined the broadcast’s legacy in ‘Myth or Legend: Orson Welles and The War of The Worlds’ and questioned the extent of the panic, noted that out of an estimated 6 million listeners, around 1.7 million believed the play to be true. Only 1.2 million were said to be “frightened”, according to a study, and just 20 people – a tiny fraction of those who actually heard the show – had to be treated for shock.

Could something like this ever happen again? I have no doubt it could. We have a sizable portion of the population that already believes in aliens, ghosts, vampires, the occult, and, of course, zombies. Our is a nation that seems to be proudly and stubbornly anti-science. We’ll fall for anything.