Exurbia - 1955

The Middle Class American Family - circa 1955.

Exurbia - 1955
The Middle Class American Family – circa 1955.

NBC Monitor – 4:15pm – 5:15pm – June 19, 1955 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

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America in the 1950s. An afternoon on a typical Sunday in 1955. To a lot of you, it’s a dim-distant past that bears no resemblance to life in America today. To others, it’s a picture of life on another planet; not this one – that the 1950s have become the decade of stereotypes; imagined life as it never really was. To some, it was a time just before the perfect storm hit; where values, customs and social interactions were beginning to be questioned. It was a time of technological advances and the slow bubbling-under of non-conformity. It was a time of rigid expectations and traditions but it was also a time where cracks were starting to appear on the surface.

But then as now, we were media-driven; we learned things from what we heard on the radio or saw on television. And even Media was starting to undergo changes. Television was coming into its own in the 1950s – it was overtaking Radio as the arbiter of taste and trends. Newspapers and magazines were crucial as an information source, but didn’t have the immediacy that television or radio did. Radio was slowly losing out to Television – the variety shows and comedies were grabbing the audience away from Radio and it was a sign the future was not bright.

The audience was getting younger in the 1950s – the generation who fought in World War 1 had given birth to the generation who fought in World War 2 – and that generation had given birth to what became known as The Baby Boom generation; the largest single concentration of youth during almost any period in our history. And in the 1950s, the wave was forming and those children born right after the war were starting school – they needed clothes, they had appetites, they watched television religiously.

I’ve run portions of this 48 hour programming bloc that NBC Radio had devised in 1955 as a Saturday morning to Sunday Night fixture to counter the exit of listeners from radio to TV in the 1950s. So those of you familiar with it have probably skipped this preamble anyway. Monitor was an experiment in trying to engage an audience; the mobile audience, the audience busy raising families and starting homes. It was an experiment that worked for almost two decades; “Going Places – Doing Things” was the motto and in many ways it did was Television couldn’t do at the time; be there as it was happening, no matter where it was going on.

The way media is now, looking back on this must seem very strange and quaint; completely abstract. There was no social media in 1955, no citizen journalists, no instagram, no mobile phones. Even as it was considered a revolution in “instant programming” in 1955, it is painfully slow in comparison to 2020 standards – just as I am sure our standards today will be considered quaint in comparison to the standards of say, 20 years from now. That’s just how it all works.

So you can listen to this in one of two ways – either as a flashback to another time when things were simpler and less complicated – or you can look at it as a slice of cultural history – how we really were a different society, some 60+ years ago.

Either way, take an hour off and listen if you can – it’s a real slice of life for a Sunday Afternoon in 1955.

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