April 21, 2010

Secret decoder ring

I was going to write a short post about serials to accompany this current comic strip, but Don Potter says it just great.

I grew up listening to lots of radio shows, as did most pre-boomers. Around dinnertime there was "Captain Midnight" and "Jack Armstrong the all-American Boy," plus many other adventure series throughout the early evening. Around eight o'clock the comedies like "Fibber Magee & Molly" and "The Life of Reilly" came on. At nine were the dramas such as the "Lux Radio Theater." And, there were scary programs too; every time I hear a squeaking door today, I think of the opening of "Inter Sanctum."

The only time I didn't like radio was when I was sick and couldn't go to school; those syrupy soap operas were the only things on during the weekdays. Saturday mornings had lots of great programs, which I listened to until it was time to go see the double feature matinee at the local movie house. Sunday afternoons and evenings were also a good times for radio.

There were programs the family listened to, but the ones I enjoyed most were the ones I heard in my room on the old Crosley radio. It sat on the nightstand next to my bed and looked like a toaster with knobs compared to the big, wood grained Philco console downstairs. With no distractions, these programs played vividly in the theatre of my mind. Yes, I actually could use my imagination to envision situations that were bigger than life, travel to places at the other end of the earth, and experience encounters so real that the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up.

The escape was thrilling, but there was a price to pay. To be the first kid on my block to have a secret decoder or the Lone Ranger's silver bullet ring with a hidden message compartment, I had to send fifty cents and two or more box tops from the cereal brands sponsoring the shows to a special Post Office Box, and then wait. I worked off the money doing chores around the house, but the family ate stale Cheerios and Wheaties for a long time - far longer than it took to get my magical toy from some distant location like Battle Creek, Michigan.

I can't say whether life was better back then, but it sure was simpler. There were good guys and bad guys, and the difference was apparent. Something was sad or it was not. A joke made you laugh or it wasn't funny. No, I don't want to return to the past, but I'm glad I had the experience of growing up when radio was in its prime.

Don Potter, a Philadelphia native, was born in 1936 and is a 50 year veteran of the advertising agency business. Now living in Los Angeles, he has written two novels in retirement, frequently writes on marketing issues, and has a blog dedicated to pre-boomers (those born between 1930 and 1945).

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