Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs

At the beginning of the Baby Boom, television broadcasting expanded to make boomers the first TV generation. By 1955, half of all U.S. homes owned a TV, so the next issue for broadcasters was to fill the programming day. From the early days of four-hour prime time broadcasting (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), the burgeoning networks had grown the broadcast day to twenty hours, signing off the air at 2 a.m.

The dilemma broadcasters faced was what to put on the air after 11 p.m. on weekends, when most people (and all good Baby Boom children!) were already in bed. While the networks experimented with late-night programming during the week (i.e., Broadway Open House in 1950, The Tonight Show in 1952), it wasn’t as lucrative to them in terms of advertiser sponsorship. For the most part, late-night broadcasting was left up to locally-owned stations. The cheapest way for them to fill the time was by airing old movies.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, many stations were airing syndicated segments of movies from the horror genre on weekends in the time between midnight and 2 a.m. Some had a voiceover actor to introduce the film, then disappear until there was a commercial break or the film ended — whichever came first since it was difficult to sell late-night ad space. Most had a local host or hostess who was often dressed as a ghoul, vampire or monster themselves to introduce the movie of the night. While the hosts may have been adept at slapstick and schlock with a distinct feeling of improvised scripting, the movies were from Hollywood — often B movies but also top-rated films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Various regional favorite hosts emerged (such as Vampira on the West Coast).

Their success drew copy cats from other regions, to the point that several used the same titles for their programs even though each region generated their own content on either end of the movie being aired. Some of these program titles included Nightmare Theater, Creature Features, Chiller Theater and the most famous of them all, Shock Theater. Shock Theater became synonymous with the genre, so much so that the title is now considered a generic name for programs airing late-night movies from classic horror films of the 1930s and ’40s to the sci-fi and Japanese monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s.

Shock Theater began as a syndicated package of Universal/Screen Gems classics. The originally syndicated package ran from 1957 to ’59. There was a version of the movie package under the umbrella title of Shock! airing until the 1980s. Mister Boomer and his siblings were in bed long before the shows came on, though his father was a late-night TV watcher/sleeper. Mister B, a light sleeper, would wake up when the TV broadcast ended and white noise filtered into his bedroom down the hall. He’d turn off the TV and shut the light, then head back to bed.

Mister Boomer saw his classic horror films mostly at Saturday matinees at the movies, but later enjoyed them on TV during daytime or nighttime broadcasts. He was well-versed in everything from Abbott and Costello Meets the Mummy to creepy Vincent Price movies like House of Wax. There is one time, however, that Mister B recalls seeing Shock Theater. He believes he was in the third grade when a classmate held a sleepover with Mister B and a couple of his friends. After the boy’s parents went to bed and the house was dark, the group made their way to the TV to watch Shock Theater. Mister Boomer was frightened that the boy’s parents would get up and be angry with them, but that did not happen. Mister Boomer would view a Shock Theater program.

Mister B remembers that the movie that night was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It didn’t matter that the film was in black & white (as was the capability of the TV set); the movie scared the bejeebus out of him. There was no other movie that gave him more nightmares than that one episode of Shock Theater, watched in the dark in a strange home in the middle of the night.

Did you watch Shock Theater or weekend late-night scary movies in the 1950s and ’60s, boomers?

Boomers Grew Along With Weather Forecasting

The rash of weather-related events in recent times — hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, ice and snow storms — have never been better forecast and reported on than they are today. Continuous weather alerts via smartphones and 24-hour weather channels make us more connected to the weather than at any time in history. Boomers are especially positioned to have seen the evolution of that reporting, from the early days of television to today.

Of course, weather reporting did not start with the boomer years. It goes way back before the country was founded, but our Founding Fathers appreciated the advantage that weather reports could give them as merchants, mariners, farmers and military leaders. In particular, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid weather observers, noting temperatures and observations in daily diaries. Jefferson had a thermometer and barometer — one of the only instruments of its kind in the U.S. at the time — at Monticello, and took daily notes of the data.

Once the telegraph allowed for reporting from all parts of the country around 1849, the Smithsonian Institution supplied weather instruments to telegraph offices, which would report back on a daily basis. By 1870, a national weather service was instituted to inform military stations of impending storms, which for the first time gave ordinary citizens information that would affect their lives. In the 1920s, the National Weather Bureau provided daily reports to the fledgling aviation industry.

During WWII, weather reporting was vitally important in many battles, especially the Normandy Invasion. Weather data on winds and tides allowed analysts to correctly interpret how the heavy fog, rain and wind of that day would lift, thereby first giving cover to the approaching invasion fleet, then as the weather improved, a better fighting circumstance for troops. In 1945 there were 900 women working for the Bureau, filling positions that were held by men who had been called to military duty.

The Boomer Generation years of 1946-1964 were extremely important to the advance of weather reporting, especially on TV:
• In 1948, the U.S. Weather Bureau gave the first tornado warnings in Oklahoma; national tornado forecasts began being issued in 1952.
• In 1950, the first 30-day outlook forecasts were released.
• In 1954, the first radar specifically designed for meteorological use was put into service by the U.S. Air Force.
• In 1957-58, the year was named The International Geophysical Year to mark the first time meteorological research data was shared among world scientists.
• In 1958, the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, was launched to observe weather. Data from the satellite is credited for the discovery of the Van Allen Belts, Earth’s magnetic fields.
• In 1963, the first polar-orbiting weather satellite, TIROS III, was launched. It provided, for the first time, continuous images of cloud cover across the globe.
• In 1970, the U.S. Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service

The British were the first to broadcast a televised weather report, with the male meteorologist standing in front of a map on a chalkboard, in 1949. The first U.S. TV weather report broadcast came out of Cincinnati in the late-1940s to early 1950s. In 1952, the FCC opened up competition for local TV station licenses, and stations saw that weather was the one place where they could get attention and distinguish themselves from competitors. By the early 1950s, weather was seen as a chance to insert comic relief into the seriousness of the daily newscasts.

Heading into the mid-boomer years, it was understood that weather forecasting was far from an exact science, so anyone with sufficient charisma and charm was tapped to report the weather. Consequently, weather reports were, depending on the positioning of the local TV station, a serious affair or a comedic interlude. A series of people, from puppeteers and poets to serious meteorologists and newsmen, were given the job at local stations. All sorts of “wacky weathermen” were reporting from local stations coast to coast. Boomers will recall the joking and physical humor of their local weather forecasters while giving the weather report; they became much-loved personalities in their own right.

Carol Reed is credited with being the first TV “weather girl,” reporting for WCBS-TV in New York City from 1952 to 1964. She had no meteorological training, and was not on the wacky side of the equation, but was well liked by TV audiences. In 1957, the American Meteorological Society began issuing the AMS Seal of Approval as a way to get science-based on-air presenters more respect and make weather reporting less of a burlesque show. By the late 1960s, most of the wacky forecasters were replaced by increasing technological abilities onscreen and added scientific data.

Mister Boomer recalls the weather forecasters in his youth. Of course, the Today Show with Dave Garroway was part of the family’s morning ritual. After national news was relayed, local stations could insert their forecasts into the program slot, so mothers knew how to dress their kids for school. What seemed ubiquitous to Mister B in the early days were the chalkboards. It was all men reporting the weather in Mister B’s area, and they would painstakingly draw warm, cold and stationary fronts on national and state maps affixed to the chalkboards, indicate temperatures in the region and forecast the highs and lows for the day as well as a general indication of sun, rain, wind, sleet, snow, heat or cold. One local station had a guy who could turn every forecast into a series of weather-related puns.

Weather forecasting has come a long way, both in format and scientific accuracy, since our boomer years. If recent tracking of impending hurricanes and “snowmaggedons” are any indication, understanding the weather in the near future will be as commonplace as our personal home assistants telling us to put on a sweater as an Alberta Clipper approaches the area.

Do you have fond memories of weather men — and women — from your early boomer years?