What is going on here? No one is rushing the stage. Folks are in their seats. No Zippos in the air. No bra straps showing. Petticoats are full, waists cinched nicely. It’s a remarkable expression of containment and decorum, when you know full well those girls are about to. lose. their. minds.
And there is Elvis, prostrate, barely legal to drink, full of chills that are multiplying and sending electric shocks up the spines of the mostly female audience. I would say he’s all shook up, but that won’t come out till next year, the year he buys Graceland and is drafted into the military.
Fortunately, Elvis lives to tour again and continues the theme of lying down during set lists, even as his age doubles from 21 to 42. Yes, the sideburns and jumpsuits (and karate moves) are new. But some things never change.
Actually, this isn’t Austin at all. It was in downtown Cincinnati at something called D’aug Days back in the 70s. I used to be more tolerant of weirdness in my youth. Perhaps this is just interpretative dance. But as I age, I understand all the feelings of that family of four. The moon goddess doesn’t need your shaken tambourine, hippies. Go stretch your hip flexors back at the commune. This ground is filthy, and you’re going to get hepatitis–and you probably don’t have insurance, even though that’s the law, so my tax dollars will be paying for your antibiotics. This is clearly not the safety dance.
It’s WWII. An injured soldier tolerates appreciates the twang of a skilled Red Cross Gray Lady, plucking the strings of an autoharp. Why Gray Lady, you ask? Because she has gray hair? No. Gray Ladies were volunteers who performed non-medical services to sick, injured, or disabled patients. They were not nurses, but they could read to patients, write letters home for them, or in this case, perform talents worthy of an appearance on Star Search. My question is: why isn’t he donning an open-backed hospital gown? Instead, he sports a Chinese stand collar, frog button jacket, as though he is dressed for his shift at The Golden Tiger. I don’t get it.
So much is happening here. Desi Arnaz appears to be flashing the peace sign, which is entirely possible for the era, as it was Halloween night of 1968. Here he is strumming his guitar exuberantly for presidential nominee Richard Nixon, at the (get this) headquarters for “Good Latin-American Democrats for Nixon.” I guess that was a thing. Enough Democratic Latinos despised Hubert Humphrey enough that they switched allegiance to support Nixon? Anyway, I love the look of the mariachi man with the sombrero. And while this Desi looks much more haggard and aged than the twin bed Lucy version we grew up with, I do want to point out that his age here is only 51, the same age that Jennifer Aniston is right now.
It’s February 12, 1964, and nobody in New York City cares a farthing that it’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The Beatles have just arrived in NYC, and frenzied Beatlemaniacs across the street from New York’s Plaza Hotel are losing. Their. Minds.
I’ve played several jukebox songs at bars lately, and I only play from the “discount” list because I can’t in good conscience pay more than $1 per song, which is what the cheap rate is. Some folks even pay $2 so that they can get their song played NEXT, which I feel is incredibly poor manners. Whatever happened to first come, first serve? I guess the rich win that round.
The two ladies above are listening to the FIRST factory-built radio made for entertainment: a 1921 Westinghouse. Did you know that radios initially required headphones?
A year prior, in 1920, Dr. Frank Conrad, while experimenting in a Pittsburgh barn, discovered that wireless enthusiasts enjoyed listening to the phonograph records that he put on the air, and the rest…is history! Except that we need the actual history to understand.
If he put music on “the air,” did that mean radio stations weren’t already playing music? Well, let’s ask Wikipedia. Conrad began work at Westinghouse Electrical & Manufacturing at 16 in 1900. At 23, he moved up to their test department, where he invented the circular-type watt-hour meter, over 30 million of which were in use by 1937. He would eventually be awarded over 200 patents throughout his life. But it was in 1916 that he installed a radio station in a two-story garage. It used a spark-transmitter, which could only be used to transmit Morse code. So no music.
When the US entered WWI in 1917, all civilian radio stations were silenced. But Conrad, working for Westinghouse, spent his time developing radio technology, using vacuum-tube transmitters, and inventing a wind-driven generator. Two years later, when the radio ban was lifted in October, he resumed his experimental station and was able to entertain other local amateurs by playing phonograph records.
As interest grew, he adopted a schedule of music. In 1920, Pittsburgh’s own Joseph Horne Dept Store began selling radios, aka “wireless receiving stations” to listen to “air concerts.” It didn’t take long for Westinghouse to construct its own broadcast station and sell receivers for this free entertainment.
The first radio station, KDKA, opened on November 2, 1920. Initially a tent on a roof, it soon became the indoor studio you see below (the tent kept insisting on blowing away). Draperies covered the ceiling and walls to prevent reverberation. A disk hanging below the upper end of the slanting bar was called “the enunciator” (which we now call a microphone). Early listeners used crystal detectors in tubeless receiving sets, but the development of the vacuum tube expanded the radio audience significantly.
Soon entertainers were asked to provide music for radio stations.
Young people especially were excited by the new technology, and competitors soon crept in. This Crosley model was advertised at $3.75.
“Oh, boy! There’s London! Last night I had Honolulu, and the night before that Porto [sic] Rico. Here’s where I get Rome. This Crosley sure does bring ’em in. There’s nothing like a Crosley.”
In 1928, Dr. Conrad received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Not until age 66 did he retire from Westinghouse, having spent his entire life in radio. He received many awards for his work, including the 1930 Edison Medal “for his contributions to radio broadcasting and short wave radio transmission,” and the 1936 Lamme Medal “for pioneering and basic developments in the fields of electric metering and protective services.” The next time you flick your radio on, pause for a moment and think of Dr. Conrad, shown below.