FTLComm - Tisdale - February 19, 2001

agent in

Though radio crackled into life in the early 1920s it wasn't until 1925 that radio signals were receivable in this part of Saskatchewan. The elevator agent in Preeceville was one of the first people in the area to have a radio set, it was one of the early crystal type that you needed head phones to hear. Ten year old Phillip Lindenbach and his older brother decided that it was time that they find out about radio and walked the four miles into town from their farm. They went over to the elevator and asked the agent if they could listen to his radio set. The agent new the two bright young boys well as their heavily accented father was a hard working and successful farmer. He quickly scribbled out a note to his wife and sent the boys over to the house. They knocked on the door and presented the pleasant woman with the note from her husband that introduced her to the Lindenbach boys. She ushered them into the living room and holding one of the ear pieces to one ear she adjusted the dial to bring in a signal. The two boys sat quietly enraptured in the crackling sounds for what they thought was a polite time, they did not want to abuse the good spirits and friendliness of the elevator agent and his wife and soon they were once more walking the four miles home




By the mid thirties most households had a battery powered radio, most were towering wood consoles which had to be large to house the monstrous batteries that powered these sets. These old batteries came in a cardboard container and were about sixteen inches wide six to eight inches deep and stood some ten inches tall. Inside there were composed of a mess of nasty acids with carbon rods and metal shells for each of the multiple cells. It was a costly outlay for a family and for a poor family (in the thirties almost everyone was poor) the time spent listening to the radio was budgeted as everyone knew it would be a major sacrifice to replace the batteries when their life was gone. Everyone learned to tell the signs of fading batteries as the radio was just gradually become quieter and you would turn it off to not tax them any further the next day they would seem fairly good then the volume would fade. This aging cycle would increase until only a few minutes could be used as the energy that power the radio had gone forever from the cells.




During the 1940s the age of radio hit its stride, there were local news and station breaks but most people turned on their radios to hear the nation wide shows most of the popular ones were American. However, the monster tower positioned over the salt deposits at Watrous was one of the most powerful and most listened to radio stations in the interior of North America. Though its call sign was CBK everyone just called it Watrous for it was the new Canadian Broadcasting Corporations Saskatchewan outlet and being low on the dial at 540, Watrous could be heard from Calgary to Winnipeg and deep into the central plains of United States.



The war

The from 1939 onward the radio really was about the war. The war that began in Asia, then broke out in Europe was riveting and listeners for the first time in history were listening in on the event. Live broadcasts from London during the Blitz, live music from hotel ballrooms, live speeches from world leaders challenged everyone to stand up for what was right for them. Hitler's speeches probably had more of an affect on Canadians than on Germans as it was clear from those unintelligible speeches that he and his followers meant to take over the world and had to be stopped.




The war was long from over when I was born in 1944 even though the fighting had ended the following year the residual upheaval of such a world wide conflict hung on for more than a decade. Sitting on my mothers lap or playing on the floor the location for both was in front of the tall wood radio. At four I could sing along and shout "Who's There" then reply "Its the Happy Gang." I was doing the hit parade and the news, radio was my world. In Kelso Saskatchewan, a tiny hamlet in the South East of the province I was directly linked to Gisselle MacKenzie, Mark Kenny, Bert Pearl, Lorne Green and a thousand other voices who spoke directly to me.



Just Mary

Though I was there falling asleep as my parents listened to Lux Theatre, Johnny Lime (the Third Man), Fibber Maggie and Molly, Our Miss Brooks, The Great Gildersleeve, Bob Hope, Arthur Godfrey and his Breakfast club, Frank Schuster and Johnny Wayne, for me the king and queen of radio were on Sunday afternoon. Allan Mills and Just Mary with only fifteen minutes each they were my kind of people. Allan Mills a children's folk singer came on with "we'll sing a little and laugh a little and play a little too." While Mary with a voice polished like gleaming gold hushed a special story, it didn't matter about the story it was the voice that held me in a trance.



voice broke

But there were other voices that I loved, oddly enough it was not so much what people said on radio in the fifties, it was instead how they said it. The actor "Frank Lovejoy" the songs of Al Jolson, the speeches of Tommy Douglas, the sermons of Earnest Manning and the hymns of George Beverly Shea. As I grew older my growth was as sporadic as most but the thing that interested me was what was happening to my voice. I was one of those kids who's voice broke, for almost a year I would be as surprised as anyone as to just what might come out of my mouse, my soft clear soprano was lurching into a baritone and did so in almost painful confusion. But as it did I did my best to do a credible Bing Crosby, the snarl of Frank Sinatra, the metal sound of Franky Lane and the rasp of Louis Armstrong. I would entertain my friends with Billy Graham haranguing them to do "As the Bible says" then encourage them with the whistling "e" sounds of Earnest Manning's "Back To the Bible Hour."



best radio programming
of all time

Radio, did not choke when television came on the scene, oh it staggered a bit but it held on, perhaps the best radio programming of all time occurred after radio had to compete for advertising money with the fledgling world of snowing black and white pictures. Hopealong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, The Cisco Kid, Gunsmoke, were all better on radio than they ever were on television and many shows were carried live on radio and TV at the same time such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope.




Its funny how much change a single person produce, Hank Williams, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Doris Day all produced songs that flooded radio and the whole of the entertainment world but in 1956 a Memphis truck driver knocked over the world. Elvis Prestley not only shock up music but the awareness of the changes that were coming to society with the massive numbers of children who had come from the baby boom suddenly became apparent. Some like to call this the coming of Rock and Roll but it was far more than such a little title it was a change of life for a whole continent. Many think Elvis' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show marked the importance of television but it was Elvis on Radio that got things going.




Teenagers and radio became almost a synonym An Admiral radio from our kitchen had taken a serious tumble destroying the black plastic material that had once been its case and all that remained was its insides. No longer presentable for the kitchen I took it to my room and for the years I would be in high school that radio was my life line to the popular cultures of North America. Late at night my station was WLS in Chicago as I was mesmerized by the epiglottal push of DJ Dick Dionte. It was more than rock and roll, more than R&B more than black culture it was a communion between the baby boomers. We shared a new awareness and came of age on the radio.




In the late fifties there was only one thing you could have in your pocket that was really cool. Sure there were guys with cigarettes, and those with condoms in their wallets but the guy who was with it had a transistor radio. Mine was an expensive Sony that my dad bought for me from somewhere. He got it second hand and though it was not as sharp looking as it might have been no one else in class had one like that, mine did not squeak but had good quality and though it consumed batteries voraciously it was mine and with it in my pocket I was a man of substance.



Tune in
another time

This story doesn't end with the coming of college, the Beetles, and Vietnam, though they all came together, that was instead the beginning of the next phase of the radio. Tune in another time for that story.