Posts Tagged ‘TV’

TV Talk Shows Serve a Need

Childhood’s “formative years,” as they were referred to, included nightly, televised-in-living-black-and-white news stories of the war—battles, injured soldiers, taps playing near a flag draped coffin; racial conflicts in the South and angry demonstrations against both; and rebelling “anti-establishment” hippies all over the place. 

Back in 1978, when the Top 40 music was still pretty good and the Vietnam War was over, I was pregnant with my first child. 

I saw many pictures on TV of battles and dead soldiers over there and battles where armed police threw teargas and used fire hoses on black people “to control” them. Their main weapons were words and rocks. 

I heard lots of words and saw “film at 11” pictures with verbal captions but no clear explanations on the WHY of what happened. 

News programs are no different today. 

Yes, we have more immediate pictures available and seldom have to wait hours to see the action. Yes, we have live phone calls accompanied by Smartphone video from civilians to show the live and up-close action. Sometimes we can be duped, learning later videos were staged or otherwise falsely altered. 

Even with all the advances, we still have little deeper understanding of current events. 

During my pregnancy so long ago, I became jobless early on and knew no one in my new neighborhood. I’d never had so much time on my hands that wasn’t regulated and scheduled. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. My friends didn’t live in my new town or were working, as were my neighbors. 

I found Phil Donahue on the TV and a window on the world opened wide for me. The guests and subjects were diverse. The audience asked questions. I felt like I was seeing the world as it was for the first time in my adult life. I ate it up like contraband potato chips. 

In the mid-80s I was in the audience for a show about human sleep apnea and a dog with narcolepsy and I stood to ask a question!  A big adventure in the Big Apple. 

I had no idea about left/right wing, liberal/conservative viewpoints. I weighed everything. It turns out Phil Donahue is a liberal as is his wife, Marlo Thomas, an actress I enjoyed as “That Girl” on TV years before they even knew each other. 

I still appreciate Donahue and the view of the world his show offered. I still explore and weigh everything. My personal political motto is, “Issues, not Parties.”


Ten years before Donahue, I occasionally watched a talk show in the afternoon, with my mother, hosted by Virginia Graham. Graham’s show didn’t delve into newsy subjects and it wasn’t trashy with too much Hollywood gossip. Graham was an older woman, a real lady who watched her manners and speech. She had a natural gregarious manner, a great raspy voice and wasn’t shy about using it and facial expressions to make her point or show amusement. She was clearly entertained by her guests and happy to be a voice for women, to women. There were few women hosts on TV and she was great, even to my teenaged mind. I learned from her and her guests about the larger world around me. 

As a new teen, then young adult, I read a daily local newspaper and watched local TV news and “news magazine” shows such as 20/20 and CBS Sunday Morning, which offered more information about worldly issues and events. A little more was explained or clarified but so much more was left to the imagination without further personal investigation. Their stories teased curiosity or titillated toward gossip. 

Before the Internet it was not easy to follow-up on subjects of interest.  They also offered stories about subjects I’d never known existed. I stopped watching when the stories emphasized the sick and weird among us instead of tweaking our understanding or compassion to common challenges. 

CNN’s debut was unique–all news all day (and still is). I saw stories about strange murder cases or forest fires or drought in the West or politics or Hollywood. I discovered that the news looped the same stories over many hours so there was no need to stay glued to the TV. The channel’s premise was helpful—I didn’t have to wait for only 6, 7 or 11 p.m. to see the news. Yet, the reporting was incomplete. 

The Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 was telecast live on CNN every night. In an eerie green night-vision light, bombs called scuds glowed in lit up lines in the sky. A hit or miss was known almost immediately. 

All that game playing hadn’t been for nothing. Home computers were relatively new and there was barely an Internet, but some people bought them because of the promise of games at their fingertips. From the cockpit of a fighter jet, we saw the pilot’s view, which looked like the newly popular video games for kids.

In June 2001, I tuned into FoxNews for the first time. I worked at a newspaper then—most of which are notoriously liberal; this one was more centered, leaning left or right per issue, as far as I could tell. It differed some as staff changed. The reporters were young, fresh from college and mostly liberal, and I often heard someone at Fox quoted or mocked and I’d never heard of it. After the first week, I was hooked on the analysis shows, such as The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes

Yes, I do like the fact that more than one side’s viewpoint and analysis are represented by the guests who are discussing serious issues on Fox.

I had only recently discovered that I am a conservative, with occasional leanings toward liberal. I have voted for Democrats when I was a registered Independent. I’ve been a registered Republican in protest since Clinton won his second term. I’ll probably go back to Independent, which is another story altogether.   

These days, if something really awful happens (such as 9/11 or the more recent events in the Middle East), I’ll switch back and forth to CNN and FoxNews to see what all the educated talkers are saying, using their best analysis skills to unravel events as complicated as a giant sticky ball of government red tape. 

Understanding is comforting in a small way even though I’m well aware there is nothing I can do alone to change events. But I may learn about things to which I will lend my voice and support or objection.  

I definitely learn what needs discussion among “we the people”—and prayer.



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As for most baby boomers, my electronified life started with a small screen black and white television, aka TV, Hi-Fi Stereo radio and record player and small, tabletop radio at home.

When I was home, I could listen to radio while playing with my dolls on the floor nearby as my mother or father tuned in to their music choice–easy listening or big bands on the Hi-Fi radio or records. By the time I was ten years old, I could put a record on for myself.

One of my favorite things to do with music was to read and learn the lyrics while listening to an LP—a vinyl record. The Broadway production of “The Sound of Music” and the Mitch Miller and The Gang Christmas albums were the first to provide this happy pastime, with lyrics included.

I could settle down to watch a TV show. There were few shows for kids, so when one was on it received undivided attention. It wasn’t long before I complained aloud about commercial interruptions on TV.

Little did I know that TV was invented in order to advertise to the masses and the shows are the fillers!

It never occurred to me that these devices could be portable.

There weren’t many radio stations that played the Top 40 Hits: 1010 WINS, 77 WABC, 57 WMCA. I set my plug-in bedroom radio to WABC and left it there. They played The Beatles frequently enough to keep my attention.

My older sister had a transistor radio, but due to its extreme personal value, the request to borrow it was denied.

I was finally able to afford my first, last and only transistor radio way back in my early teens, around 1967. The small, portable device used batteries—and used them up fast!—but that little radio got all the stations I wanted, AM only, and could go anywhere. It went to the beach mostly, because we weren’t allowed to bring them into school. I doubt it ever occurred to kids to bring a radio to school, to class.

Mobile music was such a thrill! The radio was white and aqua plastic with silvery trim and came with a small, white ear plug which was promptly lost. It crackled with static and had to be manually fine-tuned for drifting stations sometimes, but music to go was worth that little bother. It cost around $7.50, which was a lot of money for a kid getting 50 cents to $1 per week allowance. I didn’t have the radio very long; maybe two years. Batteries were expensive and sand got into it. After I came to believe my dad, mom and sister that the radio was probably dead, I took it apart to see the insides. At some point after that, it was lost—or thrown away by my mother.

The next big electronic awareness was the telephone. It amazed me that my mother could talk to her sister from Connecticut to New York or North Carolina and the voices were clear, as if they were from a house on the street.

My aunt called my mother one day, person-to-person, meaning she asked the operator to stay on the line to make sure she got my mother before the fee meter was running. For a station-to-station connection, the fee started adding up as soon as the phone was answered by anyone on the other end. I happened to be in the house when the phone rang, probably running in from playing outside to use the bathroom, and I answered it. I knew to ask, “Who’s calling?” and when the operator said, “I have a person-to-person call for Marion from Irene. Do you accept the charges?” I answered, “Yes.” I knew it was important because my aunt was calling long distance in the middle of the day. I told the operator to “Hold on, I’ll get her!” and ran back outside to the house across the street where my mother was having coffee with her friend. I felt so important, a competent messenger. By the time we got back to my house, several minutes later, the handset was still on the counter but the phone was dead. They’d hung up. My mother explained about the short waiting time for such a call before the operator would have asked my aunt if she wanted to wait, and start paying for the wait time. I have no idea why that call was so important or what was said when my mother called her sister back.

Young kids seldom chatted on the phone with their friends, but teenagers spent a lot of time gabbing about everything. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to talk and laugh with friends on the phone.

During second or third grade, in the early ‘60s, I read about the invention of the “picture phone” that would be in every house in the near future. You could talk on the phone while looking at the person on a small screen. Friends and I joked about how to cover the screen if a boy called to ask for a date and you’d just gotten out of the shower and they’d see you wrapped in a towel with wet hair stuck to your face. I never did see that phone come to a house near me.

When my kids were young, the availability of a 25-foot coiled phone cord clipped to another of the same length gave me mobility in my little Cape Cod style house. I could reach every first floor room while talking on the phone: Fold and put away laundry, make the bed, mop the floors, or wash dishes with the phone tucked under my chin. The longer cord was big progress!

In the mid-90s, we bought cordless phones for the house. It was great to have freedom of movement. There was a base that hung on the wall, plugged into a socket and wired from the base to the jack, which of course was connected to the phone wires on the poles outside. Just like today, the handset tucked into a slot where the battery recharged. A later model had a built in answering machine to the base so both tasks could be handled with one contraption.

A traveling phone was so convenient. I could make the beds, sweep the kitchen, wash dishes, clean the bathroom, pull weeds or just sit outside and drink coffee while talking on the phone. I used a cheap ear plug in order to free my hands. I put the phone in my pocket, if I had one, or tucked into my cleavage and carried on with chores or cooking while gabbing.

But talk about expensive batteries; at $20 per battery, it’s a good thing cordless phone batteries last several years before they just won’t take a charge anymore. The only downside to the portable phones is that they can get lost easily in the house—stuck in the couch cushions, thrown into a toy box, left outside on the porch, hidden under the clean towels waiting to be folded. If the battery is dead, which happens eventually even if you don’t make any calls for a time, hope of finding it diminishes considerably.

Using the FIND signal from the charger base or calling the house number from a cell phone to follow the ringing doesn’t work if the battery is dead. You just have to wait and find it…eventually. My grandchildren used to take the cordless phones to another room, pretending to talk on them to their mothers or an imaginary somebody, but they’d toss them into a bucket of toys or scoot it under the bed. Sometimes the phones were lost for days.

A phone call to Europe used to require a human operator and several minutes to go through at an exorbitant cost for just a few minutes. I worked at two different companies in the ‘70s, each with offices in Europe and South America. Only executives could make an international call and the switchboard operator, who connected with the telephone company’s international operator, had to keep records of who called where. Something important needed immediate attention back in the ‘70s if an overseas call was warranted. There were no radio signals or wireless transmission from satellite to earth. There were miles of cable laid across the ocean. There are still submarine cables across the oceans today, but their quality is greatly improved with fiber optics.

Then we were able to direct dial long distance even though it was still quite expensive. But it was a breakthrough in telephone communications to dial a couple of extra numbers and speak to someone far away.

Along the same underwater lines, typewritten messages were sent via a Telex machine. It was set up like a typewriter keyboard. You could type quick messages while connected live to the receiver’s machine. Usually, messages were longer, so the words were punched into a waxy tape and read by a reader attached to the Telex machine, which read them quickly and typed them out from the sender to receiver at the same time. Many Monday mornings I arrived at work to see 20 or 30 feet of paper waiting for me to tear off, cut out individual messages and give them to recipients.

One job required the sending of encrypted messages, “cryptels,” in order to keep top secret product information from the eyes of competitors. The company also dealt with some government contracts for our military.

Most of the time, the messages were so technical, I couldn’t have explained what they were about, but others familiar with the science of it all could get enough information to have a lot of secrets about new inventions the company was exploring.

I left the world of office work, confident in the knowledge that I had Telex skills to fall back on when I returned to work after raising my children. Little did I know…

My daughter bought her father and me an early cell phone. Since my husband commuted about 30 miles to work, she thought it would be convenient to have a lifeline to me if he got stuck in traffic or if the car broke down. The phone was big, like the size of a cordless phone that recharges, but thicker. For $25, you could buy minutes but if you traveled anywhere, the minutes were used faster the farther out of a certain range you went. I traveled once 300 miles from home and agreed to call my friend at the destination on the phone when I was 30 minutes from her house. That one minute call cost me almost all of the minutes I had purchased because I was so far away from home base. What a system! We didn’t get much use out of the bulky precursors to today’s cell phones.

The cell phone is impressive. So much power of communication is such a small device. Direct dial to almost anywhere, whether you’re in the mountains or at the beach; in the car or in your backyard; on vacation to almost anywhere in the world or just speaking to a neighbor.

The size and quality of cell phones has come a long way. A cell phone can do so many tasks aside from just talking. It takes pictures or video, plays and stores music and videos,  accesses the Internet…the list goes on and on. Every couple of years, today’s model becomes obsolete and improvements and additions to its services keep the cell phone business booming.

I had also learned about computers back in the 70’s at my job as a customer service clerk for a food broker.

Was I impressed over what computers could do and how fast and efficient they were! It was fabulous. Orders were placed and tracked; reports on sales generated and products were tracked without needing a dozen phone calls. The computer was revered, too—it had its own air conditioned office even when the employees melted in summer heat.

Today, of course, computers practically rule the world with the secrets they keep, facts and figures near at hand, reports and dictionaries and medical advice, magazines,  newspapers, entire books; email, instant photos and messages and Facebook. The Telex Operator job I thought I’d return to was practically obsolete by the mid-‘90s when I was ready to return to work. Email had taken over much more efficiently.

Not the newest gadget but my most recent electronic acquisition is the MP3 player. I know, I know, I’m a little behind on owning electronics.

I liked to listen to books on CD which I borrowed from the library so that my hands were free to crochet. I found myself getting restless while holding a book or crocheting alone, without watching TV at the same time. When TV lost its appeal with so few shows worth watching, I didn’t want to crochet as much without its company. Restless again.

The library offers electronic books! No kidding! You download a book digitally from the library’s electronic catalog to your computer, then transfer it to your MP3 player. Insert comfortable ear phones, aka ear buds with gel-covered inserts, into your ears and listen to a book. It’s read to you by a professional reader who adds (or detracts sometimes) from the book by offering acting talents, with accents and different enhancements for the characters in the books. It’s fabulous! Joggers and walkers and teenagers have known about this portable feature for years for downloaded music or radio, but it works great for books too. Hands free listening is great for doing any crafty work, but it’s also nice for listening while tackling mundane yet necessary chores or walking the same route again and again. The MP3 player is about one-tenth the size of my old transistor radio.

What’s next for our “electronified” world? I have no idea. But it will probably be some improvement–and exciting.

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