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Satellite radio recalls bygone era

If someone had told me 30 years ago that I would someday pay to have a radio installed in my vehicle and then pay a monthly fee to listen to it I would have accused them of  serious insanity.

But I do. And I find the experience most satisfactory.  Those of you who have driven through the vast open spaces of the Southwest can appreciate the advantages of satellite radio. In some places, options on regular radio are limited to talk shows, sermons, music I don’t care for and static.

I have a CD player but that requires taking one out and putting another in and, even before that remembering to grab the CD case before I leave town. It’s all just too much to handle on top of remembering to grab my camera, computer, notepad and a fresh pen—oh, and clean underwear.

And I have so many options with satellite radio. I can listen to the music I grew up with—50s and 60s Rock and Roll—or the stuff my parents made us listen to when I was much smaller. That would be 40s music—big bands, jazz, Bing Crosby, and Jo Stafford, whoever she was. It’s amazing that I enjoy that era now a lot more than I did when I was four. I also listen to several sports channels.

But mostly I tune into Classic Radio, comedy and dramatic programs from as far back as the early 1940s. I regularly listen to The Shadow, The Six Shooter (early work by James Stewart), Gunsmoke, Jack Benny andThe Life of Riley, among others. Occasionally I catch a dramatic performance of a movie that was adapted to radio. Angels with Dirty Faces, with Pat O’Brien and James Cagney was on recently.

The commercials are almost as entertaining as the programs. I’ve heard advertisements for “yellow” butter, a step up from pale butter, they say. I’ve heard effusive praise for Spam and all manner of laundry, dish and body soaps. Automobiles featured something called “hydro glide.”

But the most fascinating advertisements were aired in the early 1940s, with the country at war and with the nation’s freedom at risk.

Listeners were asked to save kitchen fat, collect it daily and take it to the neighborhood butcher where someone from the government would pick it up for use in manufacturing ammunition.

Folks were encouraged to buy war bonds to support the effort to defeat Germany and Japan. They were told how to plant “victory gardens” so commercial food stuff could be sent to the front. Even within some regular programs, actors explained how rationing plans worked and encouraged their fans to collect scrap metal, rubber and other material needed for guns, tanks and airplanes. They learned how to take care of automobiles and tires to make them last longer.

Many popular songs during that time were patriotic, designed to bolster morale. “On a Wing and a Prayer” told about a bombing mission and a missing plane. Bing Crosby sang “When we Reach Berlin,” and “In The Infantry.” And there were others.

The public service announcements and patriotic programming remind me that during World War II most U.S. citizens made sacrifices for their country. It wasn’t just the families of service men and women, though their sacrifices were often the most dreadful, but the nation bowed its back, scrimped and saved and did what was necessary to win that awful war.

We haven’t done that since. I wonder if we have the courage or the will to do so.  

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