Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time Machine

 One of the biggest fans of our old WTOP radio staton was a very talented fellow named Joe Manning. I met him through this website. 
He lives in Florence, Mass., and writes a very popular website, and from time to time mentions WTOP. His website address is:
He has given me permission to re-print this story:

By Joe Manning

As I have noted in several articles on this site, I grew up in the Washington, DC area. I was born in 1941, just several weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My father was in the US Army, and in 1944, he was sent to the Pacific Islands. My mother and I moved in with my paternal grandparents, who lived in Beltsville, Maryland, only seven miles from Washington. As far back as I can remember, the radio was always on, and for obvious reasons, I was always told to be quiet when the news came on. My grandparents were professional musicians, and my mother loved to sing, two more reasons that the radio was always on.

The CBS affiliate in Washington, WTOP, was the most popular radio station in my home, both during the war, and after my father came home. One of my fondest memories was listening to my mother sing along with Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Jo Stafford, as she went about doing her household chores. Back then, the disk jockeys talked slowly, sometimes rambling on about nothing in particular between songs, as if carrying on a conversation with their listeners. They often did their own commercials, simply by reading the copy placed on their desk. And when the station switched to national programming, the drone of voices in the daily soap operas and news shows was comforting, even though I usually paid no attention to what they were saying. It was a different time then.

Several weeks ago, I discovered a Web site called The Internet Archive. It is essentially a collection of thousands of links to audio and video files of old radio shows, live musical performances, news programs, and other media. I put WTOP into the search box, and found Complete Broadcast Day, WJSV, September 21, 1939. WJSV's call letters were changed to WTOP very soon after. A review on the site said:

Listening to this recorded broadcast gives us a sense of what it was like to live in Washington, D.C. on a fall day in 1939. Much of the news provided throughout the hours is local (commissioners meeting today on the budget; a petition to improve Leesburg Pike) as are the announcements (a regatta on the Potomac; the jitterbug semifinals of the Harvest Moon Ball; an ice cream social hosted by the Grainsville Methodist Church). Area businesses sponsor many of the programs (Zlotnik the Furrier, "at the sign of the big white bear," 12th and G Northwest; Coast-In Pontiac, "in the 400 block of Florida Avenue Northeast"; Kinsman Optical Company, "since 1900"). Also, a number of the shows are locally originated, such as Sundial with Arthur Godfrey, Certified Magic Carpet (a quiz show aired from the Cabinet Room of the Willard Hotel), and a Washington Senators baseball game from Griffith Stadium.

Nor is the larger world neglected. We hear news throughout the day of the war that broke out in Europe earlier in the month, and there are reports on such topics as the stock market and the cost of foodstuffs nationally. We hear music from artists who are popular throughout the country such as Horace Heidt, Bing Crosby and Artie Shaw. And there are plenty of network shows, including almost twenty soap operas, Amos 'n' Andy, and Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour.

I downloaded (free) all 19 MP3 files (20 hours), which took only an hour or so (I have high-speed DSL). Every morning for the last week, I have played one of the files while working on my computer. It is like traveling in a time machine. And there is one fact that makes this experience even more rewarding. The broadcast day represented was 23 days before my mother and father married in Washington. I can’t help but wonder if Mom might have listened to some of these broadcasts as she sat at home and worked on preparations for her wedding.

Here is the link to the show:

Joe Manning is a freelance journalist, historian and genealogist, poet, photographer and songwriter. His book, Steeples: Sketches of North Adams (Flatiron Press 1997), is in its third printing. It has been required reading for several courses at Williams College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He followed that with Disappearing Into North Adams (Flatiron Press 2001). His most recent book is Gig At The Amtrak (Flatiron Press 2005), a collection of his poetry.

Another story with a WTOP connection is this one he wrote about an old baseball hero of his, Herb Plews.

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