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ArchiveDECEMBER 2018


DEC. 20, 2018    16MM AUDIO

When I was learning television in my Studio Operations course at Syracuse University in 1970, we practiced splicing together individual commercials (like this 10-second TV spot) into a larger reel of 16-millimeter film, with several ads back-to-back.  We then loaded the reel onto our film chain to be “televised” during a “commercial break.”

Neither the video nor the audio was as sharp as that produced by our live studio cameras and microphones.  In particular, the film's audio came from a lower-quality optical sound track, the squiggly white bar on the right edge of the picture above.  But I suppose it was good enough.

Six years earlier, the NBC network also played commercials from 16mm film — or at least that's what it sounds like to me in the audio transcription linked on this web page.

Satirizing current events in front of a studio audience, the show aired from 9:30 to 10:00 PM ET on Friday, June 19, 1964.   It was “Live, from New York!”  But it wasn't SNL; it was TW3.

Notice the drop in sound quality during the commercials.

Also notice the reduced treble again at the very end, when an animated-logo film muddily proclaims “Produced in association with the NBC Television Network” followed by a live booth announcer who crisply plugs a Sunday newsmagazine.

But aside from my technical observations, what about the content of this episode of That Was the Week that Was?  It's interesting to us today, though most of the material is humorous only because of its irreverent topicality.  Some of it is simply rather odd, such as Tom Bosley's misgivings about deserving Heaven.

I should explain the background behind the final bit.  Two months before, Lyndon B. Johnson had gotten into trouble for demonstrating how he teased his beagles, Him and Her.  Snoopy-lovers protested the apparent animal cruelty of this Presidential ear-pulling, but the dogs didn't seem to mind.  They posed on the South Lawn for the cover of a popular weekly magazine.

On the show, HBJ, “Him Beagle Johnson,” is inspired to proudly declare his caninedacy.

(Here's a link to the audio from the previous week's show.)



I finally bought a new package of gum bands.  That's what some Pittsburghers call rubber bands.  “Gum rubber” is the old-fashioned non-synthetic natural kind.

Unfortunately, it eventually becomes sticky and dries out and shatters, and I had a lot of stiff and broken gum bands in the top drawer of my desk.

You could call me a hoarder, but I prefer to think of myself as a recycler.  Ever since I moved to Pennsylvania 44 years ago, whenever I remove a rubber band or a paper clip from something, I toss it into an organizer tray in that top drawer for possible later use.

In my younger days I'd even hoard used staples, and I linked some of them together into a jewelry chain for a whimsical paper-clip-based gift.

Over the decades, most of the bands had decayed into uselessness, so I decided to clean out the organizer.  The pushpins and safety pins and buttons and Canadian coins and spare keys each went into their own little compartments, and two bigger compartments were filled with my collection of paper clips and my brand-new supply of rubber bands.  The drawer looks much neater now.


DEC. 14, 2018    YOU TOO CAN BE A DJ

When I was in Oberlin, Ohio, last September, I was glad to encounter this poster along West College Street.  It proves that my old college radio station is still in operation.

Students are still welcome to host their very own shows.  Now members of the community at large are welcome too.  There are so many that a different host is scheduled for almost every hour of the week.

This century, the control room  looks like the photo on the right.  With a different disk jockey arriving every hour, the window has to be covered with detailed instructions like the following.

DJs:  This is very important.  Don't forget to fill out operating logs!  (in the binder behind you)

Refile the albums you use NOW!  (you punks)

Do Your Shift.  Keep WOBC on the air!!!

Another note is a reminder to play at least two PSA's (public service announcements) every hour and to stream them on the web.

Ah, but things were somewhat different half a century ago when I was among those posting the important instructions.

Check out the second half of my detailed look back at the Sixties!  It's called Programs, Part 2.


DEC. 11, 2018

What would you think if your leader began glowing?

And then he turned into three people? 

Nine years ago I wrote a story, pretending to be the one who made this happen.  It's this month's 100 Moons article.



Those who are against gay marriage have been reduced to making arguments that sound more and more far-fetched when they're stated in universal terms.

Last night on The Daily Show, Mike Huckabee objected to redefining the term "marriage."  For 5,000 years, he said, marriage has been the union of one man and one woman.

Jon Stewart's response:  First, you're wrong.  The men in the Old Testament did not limit themselves to one woman each; they took as many wives as they could afford.  Only relatively recently has marriage been redefined to "just one wife at a time."  Second, so what?  Words change their meanings all the time.

Then today the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a letter to the editor headlined "Gay couples cannot provide for the survival of civilization."  Dolores S. Jarrell wrote, "The state of marriage carries within itself the potential to engender children.  That is a benefit without which society cannot continue to exist.  ...It is the reason the right of marriage has been granted to a man and a woman who have the promise of giving civilization the gift it most needs — survival."

First, this is irrelevant.  It's true that if a gay couple marries, they won't engender any children, but they're not engendering any children now as an unmarried gay couple.  Their legal status makes no difference to the size of the next generation.

Second, society will continue to exist even though gays don't contribute any offspring.  There are plenty of us heterosexuals taking up the slack.  In fact, the danger is not that no babies will be born.  It's just the opposite:  too many babies are being born, and there will soon be so many humans competing for the planet's limited resources of food, water, and other necessities that civilization may eventually fall victim to anarchy.

I suspect that these nonsensical attempts to make large-scale, universal arguments against gay marriage are actually a disguised form of small-scale, personal entreaties.

A parent says, "Please don't legitimize gay marriage.  When my daughter grows up and it's time for her to get married, I want her to find a good man.  I don't want her to think she has the right to marry some lesbian.  If she did decide to marry another woman, I'd be mortified in front of everybody.  What would I say at the wedding?  To our family, marriage has always meant husband and wife.  Not only that, there wouldn't be a next generation.  I'd never have any grandchildren."



I collected more than a hundred weekly Program Guides from the Oberlin College radio station during my four years on campus, from 1965 to 1969.  Now, as I approach my 50-year reunion, I've been going back through the stack of listings.  I've compiled a lengthy two-part article entitled, appropriately enough, Programs.

I've rediscovered tidbits about many long-ago WOBC shows including PURPOSE, BOSS BEAT, SERENADE TO A SOUL SISTER, and WEDNESDAY'S WILD WOMEN.  As shown below, one weekly hour hosted by Wayne Alpern in early 1966 was as yet unnamed.  By the next week, Wayne had decided to borrow the title of a two-year-old BBC production, TOP OF THE POPS.

The band he was in also had an uncertain name, either the Schades or the Tappan Squares.

Nowadays Wayne is known as the President of the Class of 1969.

The main topic of my article's first half: music!  Music of all kinds.  We had an extremely eclectic playlist.  Actually, we didn't use a playlist; we just spun whatever records struck our fancy.  Click for all the details.


To resolve a plot conflict, the authors of ancient Greek tragedies not infrequently resorted to a mechanical device.

A fanfare would sound and a wooden crane, rigged with ropes and pulleys, would lower an actor portraying a god.  In Latin, this was referred to as deus ex machina, a god from a machine.

Descending from heaven, the deity would arbitrarily alter the laws of nature to save the characters from their fate, thus concluding the play with a happy ending.

According to Maurice Cunningham, audiences were astonished and filled with wonder when the god appeared, and their emotional response to this miraculous intervention enhanced the moral effect of the drama.

But according to other critics, the playwright was cheating by imagining a convenient, simplistic solution to all the mortals' problems.

I suspect that the author of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 must have been thinking of those Greek dramas when he imagined the scene I've depicted on the right.

“With a shout of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of God's trumpet, the Lord himself will come down from heaven!”



Gondoliers, runes, and a trip to the moon were among the highlights of December 1968.  For my part, I was preparing to write a physics textbook.  A workbook, actually.  All right, a “programmed learning unit.”

I closed the year with an organ offertory to which I'd written words.  You can hear me play it in the final installment of the 14-month series recalling my life 50 years ago.  Just click here.