This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
Click here to return to the index of selected articles.
Monitor Music Now
Playing Them Again Rekindles Melodies of the Past
by Jim Cox & 2014
(From Radio Recall, February 2014)
The illusion of remembering scenes and events that occurred in some time in history which is triggered by something that has transpired more recently-a feeling that one has seen or heard something before-is commonly dubbed deja vu. I've had legions of moments like that, particularly as the good old days of old time radio re-surface in my mind. Like many of you I'm often reminded of the joyful times spent devouring vintage radio and all its accoutrements in my boyhood and youth.
There are specific circumstances and events that are better recalled than others, of course. Many times they are tied to commodities that are either rarely or frequently encountered which remind me of programs and performers of the past. After many decades I spotted a can of Glass Wax on a garage shelf and my mind instantly raced back to announcer Tony Marvin's basso profundo introducing a morning quarter-hour of Arthur Godfrey Time with the exclamation : "Glass Wax-cleans 30 kinds of dirt in 30 seconds!"
That was succeeded by Godfrey's iniquitously delivered tag line, "Just wipe it on, and wipe it off." Next followed Marvin's lead-in: "Glass Wax presents…Arthur Godfrey Time!" And Archie Bleyer's instrumental ensemble struck up a few bars of the Old Redhead's familiar theme Seems Like Old Times as Godfrey whistled the tune. Funny how one thing leads to another. Does stuff like that take you back?
Product association can be very strong in transferring me to "those days" again. For instance, I never see a box of Jell-0 on the grocer's shelves that I don't think of Jack Benny ("Jell-0 again!"). Or Cream of Wheat that I'm not reminded of Uncle Bill of Let's Pretend extolling the virtues of a bowl of his sponsor's piping hot breakfast staple: "It's way up in flavah…it's way down in cost…it's pa-lenty smooth!"
Then there's Lipton tea which I invariably associate with Godfrey ("It's the cheapest thing you can drink next to water''). And who could ever recall Lava soap without thinking of The FBI in Peace & War ("L-A-V-A! L-A-V-A!") and those spellings issued from an echo chamber preceding Prokofiev's grand marching theme Love for Three Oranges? Does this kind of trivia affect you like me? Does it send you wandering back to the good old days?
Nevertheless the trigger that transports me there prolifically as much or more than any other activation is keyed to one exact series: Monitor. When I hear explicit music from it on the radio or phonograph or over a shopping center or restaurant public address system or on a newfangled gadget that reminds me of those sparkling melodies we all heard on Monitor, I'm irretrievably hooked. In case you missed that milestone in aural broadcasting, Monitor dominated the audio ether from 1955 to 1975 - 20 years-and was indelibly touted as "the show that saved a network."
Emanating from "Radio Central" in the RCA Building in downtown Manhattan, Monitor's domination of NBC on Saturdays and Sundays lasted up to 40 hours every weekend. In doing that it established a broadcasting legend of epic proportions. Its assorted supplements embraced interviews with public figures from sports, amusement and political arenas; news of domestic and global import; pithy inserts of myriad types such as comedy exchanges and monologues, how-to info, self-help tips, and on and on. Current events from home and abroad transpired as we heard them, injected into the proceedings throughout those extraordinary weekends.
And in between all of the above, the hours were awash with fragments of captivating tunes. There were satisfying melodies with ensembles and vocalists and instrumentalists whose names might be household words-or who might be mired in obscurity until then. Cuts of discs were carefully selected by Monitor's programmers to harmonize with everything else that was crammed into each venerated host's three- to four-hour shift. All of it blended together into beautiful concoctions of pure ear ecstasy.
I seem to recall being on the road and tuning in Monitor (which was invariably billed "Going places ... Doing things") and its lilting refrains and hearing its riveting features about as much as I was listening to it at home. Or at someone else's home perhaps, or maybe a public venue, a picnic, beach or mountain top retreat. That was part of the significance of the innovative Monitor concept. Devoid of most time constraints-certainly so compared to radio's earlier prescribed 5, 15, 30 or 60 minute periods in the pre-Monitor era, the sundry segments ran as long-or as briefly-as necessary. It was one more way the show revolutionized the nation's listening habits and set a new standard for broadcasting, later adopted by sequential cable TV news operators.
Meanwhile, back to the music: I started a list a few years ago, initially in my head, later committed to paper, of some of the songs and artists that were typically heard on Monitor in between all those informative chatty inserts. And that list eventually became quite lengthy. But I can still hear hosts (initially christened as "communicators") like Frank Blair, Ted Brown, Bill Cullen, Hugh Downs, Art Ford, Joe Garagiola, Dave Garroway, Ben Grauer, Jim Lowe, Henry Morgan, Barry Nelson, Bert Parks, Gene Rayburn and Wolfman Jack introducing the rhythms and artists that kept Monitor aglow. All of the following and more made my scribbled list, randomly repositioned here in alphabetical order with the year of each disc's initial release:
- Angel of the Morning - Merrilee Rush (1968)
- Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In - The 5th Dimension (1969)
- Brand New Pair of Roller Skates - Melanie Safka (1971)
- California Dreamin' - The Mamas & the Papas (1965)
- Crimson and Clover - Tommy Jones and the Shondells (1969)
- Downtown - Petula Clark (1964)
- Georgy Girl - The Seekers (1967)
- Green Tambourine - The Lemon Pipers (1968)
- Green Green Grass of Home - Tom Jones (1968)
- I Heard It through the Grapevine - Marvin Gaye (1969)
- I Know a Place - Petula Clark (1965)
- I'd Like to Get to Know You - Spanky and Our Gang (1968)
- In the Year 2525 - Zager & Evans (1969)
- Lazy Day - Spanky and Our Gang (1967)
- Light My Fire - The Doors (1967)
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens (1961)
- Little Green Apples - O. C. Smith (1968)
- Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes - Edison Lighthouse (1970)
- Monday Monday - The Mamas & the Papas (1966)
- Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter - Herman's Hermits (1965)
- Mrs. Robinson - Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
- Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head - B. J. Thomas (1970)
- Ruby Tuesday - The Rolling Stones (1 967)
- Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond (1969-)
- Theme from A Summer Place - Percy Faith (1960)
- Theme from Shaft - Isaac Hayes (1971)
- Theme from Valley of the Dolls - Dionne Warwick (1968)
- Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree - Tony Orlando & Dawn (1973)
Hearing any of those recordings anywhere at any time unequivocally offers deja vu moments for me. Monitor abruptly enters my head and I can hear a Cullen, Morgan or Rayburn initiating the music. For a few fleeting moments it's like it never went away.
Beyond "the list" (and excuse me if your favorite isn't among them as this is only a representative sampling), there were many, many asides and slip-ups pertaining to the melodies. A number are recorded in Dennis Hart's beguiling little paperback, Monitor (Take 2): The Revised, Expanded Inside Story of Network Radio's Greatest Program (iUniverse. 2003).
The music of Monitor included a line-up of genuinely talented individuals who frequently performed with gusto as they delivered current standards and old chestnuts. And for people like me, these were memory-makers, some of which have persisted for nearly six decades. When we were on the Monitor beacon, we knew we were in for some superior entertainment mixed with all that absorbing enlightenment accompanying it. What a beacon!