“Coming events cast their shadows before” wrote the English poet Thomas Campbell—and according to Alfred Lindsay Morgan in his March 1949 Etude article “Winter’s End Radio Programs At Their Height”, “Radio belies the frequently quoted line...to be sure coming events are anticipated, but the best are strengthened by what has gone before. We remember a program enjoyed and chalk it down in our memory. How strong a part memory plays in the turning of the dials is proved by changing program ratings. When remembered pleasures are not consistently substantiated in repetition of favorite broadcasts, disappointment is manifest.”
Disappointment is manifest. It seems fitting that by chance I grabbed this particular issue and flipped through the pages landing on this article—given my previous posts which evoke a looking back of sorts, questioning whether we have forfeited more than we have profited from so-called progress. But in truth, the first thing that came to mind when reading Morgan’s article was, and please don’t laugh (or please do), NETFLIX.
Even in 1949 people were complaining about programming and demanding that their favorite shows be restored and put back on the air. I imagine no matter the date or time or century, there has been a practice of recalling how it was done before, resurrecting memories of the good old days. When it was better, easier, simpler.
For some reason I immediately thought of House of Cards—a show I watched and looked forward to seeing again, and admittedly sooner rather than later. But what I am recalling (vaguely) is one of its season's release dates had people up in arms and demanding it be released even sooner. A few characters shy of a social movement, it seemed.
Also, there is now another wonderful word to add to what I called in a previous post our “somewhat collective lexicon”—a showhole. Amazon created an ad that explains the term with the visual of a woman curled up, wrapped in a blanket on her couch in a state of clinical despair as the final credits roll on her favorite show. Then it cuts to her shoveling dirt on top of her TV, as in why bother having one if you can no longer watch your favorite series ad infinitum?
Though perhaps a troubling commentary on present day existence, it is actually very funny.
Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdj9k4jsw-c
But back to 1949 and Alfred Lindsay Morgan who was quite up in arms himself about how radio programming was going down the tubes. In that first paragraph he writes, “One poor program can greatly alter audience appeal. So, to paraphrase the poet’s line, in radio “Events that have cast their shadows before” are most eagerly awaited. For him, he laments the “now defunct broadcasts of the Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland Orchestras, and that inimitable Columbia musical offering of the past—“Invitation to Music.” He continues:
“The lack of sponsors has removed too many fine programs…There is just reason for critic Virgil Thomson’s recent assertion in the New York Herald Tribune that radio, in general, ‘is gravely misusing its privileges with regard to serious music and skimping its obligations.’”
So, even over half a century ago good programming was being thwarted by lack of sponsors, or to get down to it, the thing that often trumps all—profit. Are our favorite shows cancelled due to philosophical differences between the director and the executive producer? Once in a while, maybe.
Lamentations aside, what were some of these fine programs listeners had the privilege to hear?
“Just when many of us were despairing that no programs in adult music education would be forthcoming this year, the National Broadcasting Company announced its seventeen-week “Pioneers of Music” series, new step in home-study phase of the “University of the Air.”
Again, it seems the showhole variety of despair can trace its roots to 1949—but instead of a vast inventory of shows and films streaming to appease the distraught viewer there was, among other programs, “Pioneers of Music”. A program that was arranged under the guidance of USC’s College of Music in an attempt to “provide organized education for people at home everywhere in the United States.” I am certainly not an historian, and have little knowledge of the radio’s history, but it still surprised me to learn that such home-study programs were in place mid-19th century. Today, of course, you can earn a doctoral degree with a few hundred clicks or taps.
The idea behind this series was “to trace the evolution of orchestral music from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present.” It also included weekly study guides and other materials which would be submitted to USC and then returned to each student.
The cost was ten dollars for 17 weeks of music and study. 59 cents a week.
The article ends with a description of other programs to come which included Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony for a total of 8 concerts. Turns out Toscanini “made his now legendary first appearance as conductor at the age of nineteen.”
It seems at the time he was a cellist with a touring Italian opera company that was performing in Rio de Janeiro, but due to a “temperamental conductor” who abandoned the company and a lack of replacement options, Toscanini was asked to take his place on the podium with baton in hand.
“He did, conducting the entire opera without opening the score. His ovation was tremendous. This fortunate chance, for which the young musician was well prepared, launched him on his brilliant career.”
So, in bringing it all back home (Bob Dylan, 1965), I suppose it is only natural, at times, to mourn what has been lost, to sorely miss the ways things once were—but perhaps not an altogether bad idea to consider what great opportunities are still available to us that do not necessitate liking and clicking and tapping.
Quite a few, I should think.