VICTORIA, Texas — Change is often uncomfortable. It is disruptive to our peace of mind, the things we love, but it is inevitable.
Over the weekend, I posted on my Face Book page a picture of my first desk-top word processor — a 1950’s Royal Touch Control Manual typewriter. I loved this typewriter as much as I loved the business where I first became acquainted with this incredible specimen of an elegantly designed machine — being a newspaper reporter. In my prime, I could type more than 70 words per minute using forefingers to strike the keys and my thumbs to hit the space bar. I was proudly ambidextrous. Errors, strike overs and cursing were all acceptable, except when I was first learning typing in high school. That was my mum’s idea. The problem is that I had already mastered the newspaperman’s rapid fire hunt and peck system. Trying to master the “touch system” was a horrible experience. It was so bad — frustrating — that I caught heat from my father for getting the unacceptable conduct marks I earned on my report card. I swore at the typewriter.
But I digress.
Let me touch on those things that I love that have changed. The change to the news business has disrupted my peace of mind and, if I had not left, escaping to healthcare, there is no doubt that my financial security would have been seriously disturbed.
I fist saw the tell-tale signs of change when they came in, swept away my beloved manual typewriter and replaced it with something called an IBM Selectric. It was not as receptive to my hunt and peck typing.
Then the clanky AP, UPI, New York Times and Knight Ridder News wire teletypes that produced a noise that came to represent the heart and soul of the news business, were replaced with computers.
The linotype machines that made lines of “hot type” that became lines in the newspapers that people read and the printers who assembled those lines of type in the forms that became pages of the newspaper, were gone. Gone, too, was the rhythmic sound of the linotype machines and the fabulous smell of printers ink, replaced by the smell of glue, and the whirl of little fans in the dozens of computers that produced something called camera-ready pages.
These were all sounds and smells that I loved. I hate that they are no longer part of the industry but, change is inevitable.
And newspapers aren’t the only thing that have changed. Radio ain’t what it use to be either.
When I did radio news it was all about producing a five-minute news, weather and sports report at the top of the hour, with a headlines at the bottom of the hour. Innovation in radio news in the 60s and early 70s amounted to producing something called 20-20 news — the same format but at 20 and 4o minutes past the hour.
But where the real change occurred was on the entertainment side of radio. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, the disc jockeys — so named because many still played actual records — were local rock stars. It was all about their personality and they were valued if they bagged good ratings. The really good ones made terrific money. They had Hollywood styles names — like Charlie Van Dyke, Barry Kaye, Murray the K, The Real Don Steel, Bill Bailey, Larry Lujack and John Records Landecker. And then there was the famous Cousin Brucie and Wolfman Jack.
They had the freedom to select some of the music they played and to create their own materials and slogans. It was known as personality radio and if you listen to some of the air checks and watch the videos of these stars, you will understand.
Today, with industry consolidation and the enormous costs of acquiring radio stations, corporate programmers are loathe to allow the local talent risk their investor’s capital. What we hear is computer programmed based on endless surveys of the music people want to hear, and the “disc jockey” is now relegated to being a button pusher with a good voice. Most radio stations today are a bland shell of their former selves. The stations and their Jocks are not the center of the teenage social world. In some smaller cities, there are no disc jockeys. Computers feed recorded announcements and introductions from central studio. Smart phones and satellite radio and streaming services like Apple’s Beats1 have eroded listeners and diminished the status of radio so that in America today, it is not what it used to be.
For the Millennials, these memories that were a big part of my life are ancient and irrelevant to their existence. They do not understand and, to be honest, they could care less.
But here is the interesting thing: As the Millennials age, those things they love today, that are important to their experience, will begin to fade into the background replaced by the latest new thing. The Millennials, too, will look back and recall, as I did today, those great things they experienced, that defined their lives in the good old days.
Change in inevitable.
© 2020 John Gregory Self