When I was young, radio was the main form of home entertainment, so I fully indulged in this pastime.
In the late afternoon during the week, I listened to Tom Mix (“Drop the gun, or I’ll fill you so full of lead you’ll sink when you take a bath”), The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and Captain Midnight. Yes, I ate Wheaties, drank Ovaltine and belonged to the Captain Midnight Club.
In the evening during the week, I listened to the latest movies re-enacted on Lux Theater, heard the crash of items fall to the floor when Fibber McGee or Molly opened their closet door, lived through high school English with “Our Miss Brooks” and the oafish Walter Boynton, heard the current songs on “Your Hit Parade,” sung by Russell Arms, Giselle MacKenzie and, of course, Snooky Lanson, and laughed at The Kingfish as he constantly tried to con Andy on the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Show.”
On Sunday afternoon, I marveled at how The Shadow (Lamont Cranston) could see into the hearts and minds of men, how the FBI caught spies and gangsters, thrilled at the creaking door on “Mystery Theater” and went to Yale with Frank Merriwell, All-American.
On Sunday evening, the family enjoyed Jack Benny and his co-stars, Dennis Day, Alice Faye, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone and Rochester. We also enjoyed the characters on “Allen’s Alley” and “Duffy’s Tavern” – “where the elite meet to eat.”
The evening ended for me with Walter Winchell – “Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea” – and his terse reporting of news and gossip.
In case you’re wondering if I ever did homework, well, the shows ended around 8:30, so as a grade school student, I did have time to do my assignments.
As far as sports were concerned, I listened to Bob Elson report the Chicago Cardinal football games and the Sox games – both played at Comisky Park. I also listened to Burt Wilson’s play-by-play of Cubs games on WIND. I was always a Cardinals fan, so I never listened to Bears games. My favorite Cardinals players were Don Stonesifer, Paul Christman and Charlie Trippi. Even though the Cardinals left Chicago over 40 years ago, I am still a fan.
Double-header baseball games were played on Sundays and holidays. When we got the television in 1952, it was fun to turn off the volume on the set and listen to the radio’s play-by-play descriptions. Brother, did those broadcasters exaggerate!
When I became a “grown-up” seventh-grader in 1951, the weekly and Sunday afternoon shows lost a lot of their appeal – and the homework assignments got longer – but I still listened to some Sunday evening shows, because, as I mentioned earlier, radio was the main source of home entertainment for both kids and adults.
Patrol & playgrounds
When I was in eighth grade at O.W. Holmes School, I inherited my patrol boy post on Oak Park and Chicago avenues from Dave Diman. The northeast corner was busy, and I had few problems except from a guy named Richard, who happened to be a neighbor. In the winter, he would try to hit me with snowballs; when it rained, he would stomp mud and try to spray me; and in the fall, he would gather leaves and throw them at me.
He had also done these things to Dave, but Dave beat him up after school one day. Well, one day while he was throwing snowballs at me, the kids I was crossing and the passing cars, Mr. Franco our gym teacher and patrol supervisor drove by my post, saw Richard pitching, stopped his car and collared him. Richard ended up in the principal’s office and was suspended for five days. I never had trouble with Richard again.
We had recess from kindergarten through sixth grade, and the favorite games were Run-O-Bear (a form of tag), softball and tag football. We had supervised snowball fights after lunch on the east playground – where the school is now located – and we also had gym classes on the same playground during the fall and spring. Sometimes kids got into fights, but the teachers generally were able to stop the fights, and the kids received either suspensions or a paddling by the principal. One “game” that was popular with some kids was called “Toss.” The game favored the tall kids, because they would grab a shorter kid’s hat and toss it into the crotch of one of the many trees on the west playground. Then a custodian would have to use a pole to snare the hat from the tree. If a kid didn’t want to wait for a custodian, other kids would climb the tree and get his hat. If the rescuer was seen by the teacher, he would spend time after school writing, “I will not climb trees on the playground,” two or three hundred times. The girls, on the other hand, waited for the custodian to come, or they would ask him to retrieve the hat after school.
You are probably thinking we were a wild bunch of kids. Well, in our minds, we believed we were, but today we would be considered mild, to say the least.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 68 years.