The majority of young parents owned a television set by 1950. Reviews were less than enthusiastic… John Mason Brown called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” T.S. Eliot remarked “It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” Perhaps the late, great Fred Allen explained it best when he said, “They call television a medium because nothing on it is ever well done.”
The harsh criticism subsided somewhat when TV presented its first amazing spectacular of a real-life event… the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings: a great battle of heroes and villains, broadcast live (wrestling was also extremely popular in the early days of TV), with the government of the United States launching a full scale attack against the entire organized crime world. Senators grilled the Godfathers and the public learned all about the Fifth Amendment. The show soared in the ratings.
The networks realized that they had hit the mother lode, and soon “law and order” shows, such as Dragnet, Treasury Men in Action, The Man Behind the Badge, The Web, Man Against Crime, and Rocket Squad sated the airways. The networks pushed goodness to the next level on March 1, 1952, when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) accepted a television code, which included these four basic rules:
Early Boomer children began to watch TV and the networks spoon-fed them “Truth, Justice and the American Way” in the form of kid programs like Superman and recycled old Westerns with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. A new Oater, Sky King, introduced a modern cowboy flying an airplane. What more could a Boomer kid want?
Every popular topic of discussion heard in the street in those early days was soon reflected in the TV mirror as a new show. The average household suddenly contained twice as many kids, giving parents twice as many headaches and family situation comedies flourished. The early 50’s gave us The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy, I Married Joan, My Favorite Husband, Mama, Make Room for Daddy, and The Pride of the Family. Note the progression of the titles here… the typical story of love and marriage in the early ‘50s.
In the superficial world of television, titles are often more important than the content of the show as an accurate reflection of the times. The early ‘50s, for instance, appeared to be a wonderfully optimistic time in America. To grasp a quick flavor of the mood of any era of recent American history, one need look no further than the titles of new Soap Operas, the shallowest form of TV programming. 1951 gave us Love of Life and Search for Tomorrow; 1952, The Guiding Light; 1953, Follow Your Heart and Three Steps to Heaven; and in 1954, The Brighter Day and A Time to Live.
The public obsessed on the American Dream, and the tube provided a forum. Star-struck wannabes sought overnight fame and fortune on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, Talent Patrol and Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts; sub-amateurs depended on dumb luck on game shows like Strike It Rich. Young parents bragged about their brilliant Boomer kids and the Networks created Quiz Kids.
The first tidal wave of Boomers hit the public school system in 1952, and teachers, or rather a lack of them came to the attention of the public. TV responded with sit-coms like Mr. Peepers and Our Miss Brooks to assure us that the school system could handle the situation in its own bumbling way.
Television finally came of age on either (you decide) January 19th or 20th, 1953. The latter date included the Eisenhower/Nixon Inauguration… the first to be televised live, coast to coast… giving millions of Americans a glimpse of the pageantry and ceremony in our way of transferring power. A landmark in the history of television, but not nearly as big as the stunning event on I Love Lucy the night before, when Mrs. Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky. Earlier that same day, Lucille Ball had produced a real-life boy, named Desi Arnaz, Jr., named after Desi, Sr., his father, who that same evening also became the father of a different baby named Little Ricki on the tube. Confusing, isn’t it? We Boomers have always had a problem separating TV from real life. In any case Little Ricki was the first Boob Tube Baby Boomer birth.
YouTube- Lucy and Desi “We’re Having a Baby”: <http://youtu.be/mQtjSm9p-hA>
Any mention of Pregnancy had been considered as taboo on the tube until Lucy’s physical condition forced the producers to include the subject on the show. Her double pregnancy (real and tube) became an extremely popular topic of conversation at the time. The event completely overshadowed the Eisenhower/Nixon gig. More than 70% of America’s TV sets tuned in to I Love Lucy on that very special night. Dickie and Ike only pulled in a small fraction of that number the following evening.
Rock & Roll
Boomer Rock & Roll finally found its Johnny Appleseed in 1950, in the form of disc jockey Alan Freed. At this point in his career, Freed had been turned down by most of the major radio stations in the country, so he jumped with joy when offered a job at WJW in Cleveland. Soon after, he met Leo Mintz, the largest local record dealer, who told him that kids of every race often bought a type of Rhythm and Blues, commonly referred to as “Rockin’ & Reelin,” a metaphor for what happens to the bedsprings after the lights go out.
Freed loved the sound and tried out a couple of those records on his show. The kids dug the tunes, and soon R & R dominated his time slot. Alan developed a style of “manic patter” between and over songs that captured and complimented the music. He began to call it Rock & Roll and his Moondog Show soared in the ratings.
Alan sponsored the Moondog Ball in 1952 in Cleveland. 25,000 kids, half of them White and half African American, showed up at a hall that only held 10,000… a slight problem in segregated Cleveland. Parents flipped out and Freed was forced to cancel the show… but not before the message had leaked out: “Regardless of race, kids just want to have fun and rock!”
The timing for Rock & Roll to emerge was perfect… television had badly wounded radio, and AM stations desperately scrambled for anything that would draw new listeners and sponsors. Other DJ’s on mainstream (white) AM stations followed Freed’s lead and started playing Rock & Roll. Teens turned on to the Black sound, but their WASP parents still dug Your Hit Parade and the Perry Como Show on television. The First Golden Age of Rock & Roll lurked just around the corner.