If GE “brings good things to life,” the Internet brings good things to light, or back to life — for example, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater (CBSRMT).
Radio Hall of Famer and Those Were the Days host Chuck Schaden aired a few episodes of CBSRMT many years ago, but was thwarted in his quest to broadcast the series by some kind of rights issues. Today many CBSRMT episodes can be found online as MP3s — which means I may need to break down and procure an MP3 player.
I was 12 years old when the CBSRMT series began to air, usually at midnight. I listened to the program in the silence of the night, trying to be quiet as I huddled under the covers and squirmed to the ominous tones of bass woodwinds and E. G. Marshall’s “Pleasant . . . dreams?” I felt vulnerable in my little room in my little trailer, with little between me and the evils of mankind and the unknown supernatural.
I listened to an episode this Saturday, “The Lodger” starring Kim Hunter, which was originally broadcast 13 May 1974. I would see Hunter a few years later at Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theater in Elizabeth the Queen with George Chakiris.
“The Lodger” is a familiar story told many times on radio. For 1974, this version had a vaguely retro feel as a city newspaper reporter somehow gets the scoop on every killing. With blogs and news blogs and constant news updates, is there such a thing as a breaking news scoop anymore?
The commercials also took me back. One, for a discount grocery chain, touted, among other comfort foods, Pepperidge Farm Layer Cake on sale for 69 cents. It may sound strange now, but 69 cents was nothing to sneeze at for a frugal working man like my father (the licensed driver and therefore the grocery shopper and bargain hunter of the family). Of course, this commercial was targeted at “her” — Mom. Even in 1974, the title of “Mom” was attached to the majority of domestic chores. (As far as I’ve seen on the television at work, in 2008 household cleaning products are still within the woman’s domain.)
The other commercial I paid attention to was for Budweiser, then still “The King of Beers” and known for the company’s signature Clydesdale horse teams and the light musical theme heard in the background. The male voice talent suggested that you “reach for a glass” although “it’s great beer any way you drink it.” With a glass, you get the full benefit of “the wonderful head of foam” — “those bubbles, tiny though they are, still amount to something pretty special at the top of your glass — taste appeal and eye appeal.” This is due to “exclusive beechwood aging and natural carbonation.” The result is “a difference you can taste.” So, “when you say Budweiser, you’ve really said it all.”
No sports, no celebrity, no sports celebrity, no sex or rock music, and no irrelevant cuteness like frogs. Just “something pretty special at the top of your glass.”
At least until microbrews, imports, and ADHD came along. Who today would pay for air time, even after midnight, for such a boring commercial about the product?
After the episode ended, a few moments of news commentary came on, delivered by Fulton Lewis III, defending President Richard Nixon. In a ponderous, old-style news voice, Lewis talked about how allegations of a “specific nature” had been answered “promptly and firmly” by the White House, whose response referred to “concerted efforts by some sources to circulate fallacious reports,” the “vindictiveness of some people,” and “the purveyors of this sad story.” Lewis, who said that Nixon’s language could be “rough,” also asserted that those who knew the president, including him, agreed that racial, ethnic, and religious slurs were not in his vocabulary.
Nonsense. Any Caucasian of Nixon’s age had slurs in his vocabulary, even if he didn’t use or believe in them. For many Americans, they were part of the culture of the early and mid-twentieth century, along with Jim Crow laws and segregation. TV producer Norman Lear built a long-running comedy series on a character of Nixon’s generation — All in the Family‘s Archie Bunker — whose bigotry was his hallmark. Later, the evidence would show that not only were slurs in Nixon’s vocabulary, but that his racist vocabulary was more extensive than Archie Bunker could have dreamed.
How fascinating it is to look at even relatively recent history with the knowledge and superiority of hindsight. As I listened to Lewis righteously and indignantly question the charges and the motives of the “purveyors,” I knew what he couldn’t — that he was a dupe of the failed coverup and that the man he was defending would prove to be the “crook” he claimed not to be. Yesterday’s heated debate long ago resolved itself into today’s cold fact.
I can’t wait to dive into the rich treasure trove of CBSRMT episodes that await — not only for the emotions revived by nostalgic memories bur for the history I witness, didn’t appreciate, and have already forgotten.