Woodworking column:Radio opened up the world, outside of the farm
I thank my lucky stars for radio. I thank my family's lucky stars for radio. No, not TV. Radio.
Back in the early 40s, my father found an opportunity to quit work in the big city of Eau Claire, a job he loathed, and move back on a farm, which he rented from the John O. Melby Bank of Whitehall, which had a hobby of foreclosing on Great Depression victims years earlier. It was not a choice many folks approved of because it was not much of a farm. 40 acres. The barn hadn't been painted in years or probably ever. A half-finished house. No electricity because the bank had chosen not to spend $25 for a highline pole when REA came through the year before.
So my mother had to resurrect flatirons from ancestors, who heated them on their cast iron stove tops a generation earlier. Same goes for kerosene lamps for house and barn. No indoor plumbing, of course, and no juice to run the cream separator, which had to be cranked by hand.
But we survived on that barren landscape called Rat Coulee between Blair and Whitehall. What kept us from going stark raving mad? What else but our Coronado radio, which ran off a car battery night and day. When my mother was canning string beans on the Beaver Dam range, she followed along with shows like "The Real Life Drama of Ma Perkins" set at the old lady's lumberyard looked over by Shuffles and Willie; "Our Gal Sunday," which asked the question "Can this poor girl from a mining town in the West find happiness with the rich and sophisticated Englishman, Lord Henry Brinthrop?" (I'm certain my mother was pulling for Sunday all the way).
When I returned from the rigors of first grade with Miss Adella Hanson of Larkin Valley State Graded School, I turned to more serious shows like "The FBI in Peace and War," never suspecting that J. Edgar Hoover was a cross dresser. Then came "The Lone Ranger" and "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy."
In the evening, after milking in the drafty barn, my father returned for supper and a bout with the Coronado. If we were snowed in and had no beer in the icebox, he resorted to someone's Christmas present, a bottle of Virginia Dare syrupy white wine, while he listened to "Inner Sanctum," starring the inimitably spooky Agnes Moorehead. (He'd have liked her better had he known she was from Wisconsin.)
Monday nights were his favorite because of "Lux Presents Hollywood," which were radio adaptations of famous movies which had recently been shown out East and out West, but never at the Pix in Whitehall, which relied on second runs and "B" pictures for our delectation. After one Monday night broadcast, its audience listened in at the star's dressing room, after Joseph Cotten had reprised his role in "Citizen Kane." Because it was his job to sit in for emcee Cecil B. DeMille to announce next week's show, he began in his unmistakably nasal voice. "And next week, enjoy a radio version of Orson Welles's 'Gone with the Wind,' which stars Vivien Leigh as the fiery Scarlett O'Hara and as Rhett Butler, the renowned actor [Pause] SONNY TUFTS!" Dad's reply "It must be true. Clark Gable is REALLY in the Air Force."
Remember, war was on, times were hard, even on the home front.
Two years later we moved to another sharecropper's delight, a larger farm with electricity. Of course, we dragged along the Coronado, plugged it into an outlet in the kitchen and continued to be entertained and kept sane by Radio. In fact on this very day in 1943, we listened to my father's favorite commentary show, "People's Platform," starring thinkers and humorists, including
Alexander Woollcott, the famous drama critic, who said this on the air: "Germany was the cause of Hitler just as much as Chicago was the cause of the Chicago Tribune."
Woollcott then had a heart attack and died on the way home.