Revisiting the Park: Put the radio on and spin that dial

There are so many distractions these days: entertainment, socializing, taking classes-working-shopping online, it is amazing we of the “Silent Generation” got by on just the radio. (1)

Our young brains adapted easily, and we looked forward to serial shows like “Batman,” “Superman,” “The Green Hornet” and “Captain Midnight and his Secret Squadron” — it meant we were pretty normal. Our parents listened to “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club,” a soap opera called “Ma Perkins” and “Stella Dallas” to name a few. (2)

To capture the interest of the young, prizes were offered if we became a member of one of the shows. One was a signet ring which revealed a coded message after each episode and could only be deciphered by a member. This was an after-school must and created quite the stir. Dell comic books thrilled us as well — one kid bought one and shared with the rest of us.

As we grew older, our tastes changed to the Burns and Allen Show and the Bob Hope Comedy Hour. A good one starred Jack Packard, Doc Long, and Reggie York in “I Love a Mystery.” These guys met as mercenary soldiers fighting the Japanese in China. Later, they met again in San Francisco where they decided to form the A-1 Detective Agency. Their motto was "No job too tough, no adventure too baffling.”

In our early teens we followed Seattle disc jockeys. A popular one was Bill Apple who lived just south of Madison Park, and we knew him by his voice alone. He broadcasted from a studio on 4th Ave S. in a predominantly glass building, and it was one of the first in Seattle. People honked as they drove by. We young listeners would borrow a friend’s family car to come inside and help with the dedications. We hammed it up, “Here’s a special tune for Doris from Tom!” Too bad she was with Roger — this was followed by a phone call from Tom to the station. Everyone laughed as he and Doris were schoolmates.

A trick in the 50s from the little tykes looking for a laugh happened while waiting for a bus downtown. These miscreants would look up all at once pointing and yelling, “Oh no, don’t jump!” Everyone waiting for the bus would step to the side and look up but there was no one there. Skittish laughter could be heard but was subdued by a policeman on patrol who admonished the scoundrels. Imagine walking downtown and being greeted by a policeman or two (as was common then).

A pair of disc jockeys did shows in “The Cage” on Aurora north of Denny and would start early at 6 a.m. During the broadcast they would interrupt their dialog and say loudly, “Did you see that blue Chevy coupe run that light entering Aurora — license #123ABD?” After a few of those, traffic slowed down and some even waved at the oddity.

Baseball was covered by Leo Lasson, the voice of the Seattle Rainiers. (3) One of the star hitters was JoJo White, who lived in the Edgewater apartments. He visited many of the stores in Madison Park, but he really liked Herman Stohl’s bakery.

Chinatown and its after-hours clubs were becoming most popular and it was easy meeting Seattle personalities then. Bob Hardwick, a very well-known disc jockey, joined Jack Morton at KVI Radio. Jack lived in, you got it, Madison Park. Bob told me one night at one of the clubs about a show being reinvented from the ’20s called Stella Dallas. He said the first airing would be later that morning in the office downtown. A few of us circled the small radio office and we could hear an organ playing soap opera type music.

As the music faded Bob said, “And now another episode of … ” (music) “Around the corner and up your … street.” The events of Stella and a list of characters was way too risqué to be an actual neighborhood; nevertheless, much laughter ensued. Not sure where the FCC was in those days, but it was good Rx for the ears and definitely improved one’s day. (You may buy me an Americano if you would like to hear the particulars). Bob and Jack ended their show and had preplanned to take a listener to lunch downstairs next door at the El Gaucho in a mink-lined booth reserved just for them. They were the most popular and highest paid disc jockeys in Washington.

What made radio so big was all the stations had themes. New cars featured radios with stereo. The Ron Bailey School of Broadcasting taught how to become a radio voice for those seeking fame and provided licensing to do so. One friend signed on, made the grade, graduated and we had a sendoff for him, Red Onion style. Rod later headed south, and we all waited for his call sign. Nothing. Nothing even from Ron.

A group of us would visit Charlie Puzzo’s Playboy Tavern down the street from the Paramount Theater (really small) and we would watch an exciting Monday night TV show like “I Spy”, “Mod Squad” and “The FBI.” After putting money in a hat, we guessed how many guys would get whacked. Draw the winning number, you won the pot. On one show the baddest dude ever was whacked, close up. “Hey, that’s Rod!” Our friend from radio fame to be. That dark haired really Italian-looking ever-smiling dude of radio fame now with a great agent came to visit with a lovely counterpart. He said he was too embarrassed to reveal his choice, twice the money than many other offers. He bought the beer.

One of our Madison Park friends liked to frequent Rosallini's 410 as we did, and he was to be on the dating game. He was contestant No. 2 and the single lady was such a charmer she overpowered his every attempt to capture her amour. Close but no cigars.

Having only the radio when we were young helped develop imaginations and creativity. It was a simpler time and now our time is congested with artificial intelligence. One can only hope we are still cultivating creativity and expanding awareness and mindfulness.

(1) The Silent Generation grew up in the chaos of war and the Great Depression. 

(2) Don McNeill's Breakfast Club was a long-running morning variety show on NBC Blue Network/ABC radio (and briefly on television) originating in ChicagoHosted by Don McNeill, the radio program ran from June 23, 1933, through Dec. 27, 1968. 

(3) Lassen’s legendary adherence to accuracy and detail, his encyclopedia knowledge of baseball explains his popularity over so many years (1931-60) as the voice of the Indians and Rainiers.