Boomers Watched Santa On Radar

Tracking Santa Claus from the North Pole on Christmas Eve by radar is an example of a tradition that had its origins in the early boomer years and which continues today. Radar had been used, in rudimentary forms, as far back as the late 1930s. World War II advanced the use and technology. It was during the war that radar operators noticed that weather patterns gave them a noise reading; through experimentation, a Doppler Radar system was developed that could be used by the National Weather Service in the early 1960s. But that is getting ahead of our story.

The Cold War was in full swing in the 1950s and radar technology stood at the front lines of our defense systems. When your opponent could launch a missile attack at any time, the more advanced your radar system was, the earlier warning you’d have to mount a counter-offensive. So went the conversation in the schoolyard.

What we had were two seemingly-divergent radar paths — civilian and military use — that met one day in December of 1955. The story begins in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A Sears Roebuck store ran an ad in the local newspaper that gave children a “Santa hotline” number to call on Christmas Eve. Instead of reaching Santa, the mistyped number connected callers to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). After receiving a few calls, Colonel Harry Shoup began telling children that even though they had the wrong number, they could rest assured that Santa was on his way because he was spotted on radar leaving the North Pole. The tradition began from then on. In 1958, Canada and the United States jointly created the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), which took over the duties of tracking Santa’s trek on Christmas Eve each year and reporting to TV stations. They would then air the report during the weather forecast.

For Mister Boomer, seeing the radar tracking of Santa Claus each year on the evening news seemed as commonplace as Cheerios and corn flakes in the morning. Of course NORAD could track Santa. Every schoolboy knew they were our military defense system.

The presentation of this “fact,” though, did leave much to be desired. Mister B recalls the station his parents watched most often showing a visual that was supposed to be Santa on his sleigh, being pulled by reindeer, flying overhead on the radar screen. The program, broadcast in black and white, was received on the family’s Sylvania TV and displayed on the tube in dull shades of gray that echoed the Midwestern December sky. For a full fifteen seconds, there it was: a lightbox with a cut-out of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer casting a hazy shadow on the “radar” screen. The now-familiar sweeping radar arm turned clockwise around the screen, illuminating a white, circular light when it reached the twelve o’clock position. Even for a six year old, the presentation had the feel of a project a dad might make in his garage.

Another channel’s presentation was even worse: they didn’t even bother to project an image. Instead, they literally stuck a white silhouette directly on their “radar” screen. Santa’s position didn’t move. Santa couldn’t move. Yet these and countless other TV stations reassured boomer children that Santa was on his way, with lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.


The tradition lives on today with a technology update that lets kids track Santa even on a cell phone!

What memories of tracking Santa by radar can you recall, boomers?

Another Boomer Legend Passes On: Steve Jobs

The passing this week of Apple Computer founder, Steve Jobs, has prompted Mister Boomer to ponder the qualities of the Boomer Generation that have made a striking difference in the daily lives of every generation that has followed. Surely, generations before us were inventive and savvy in the technology of their day, but boomers have taken it to another level in just a few, short decades. Much of our modern tech-savvy ways can be directly attributed to the work of Steve Jobs.

Here was a man — himself a boomer — whom people are comparing to great inventors of past technological ages, particularly in the field of communications: Guglielmo Marconi, Samuel Morse, Robert Fulton, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison among them. Each adapted and expanded on the technology of their era to develop tools and products that changed the way people conducted their daily lives. Unlike previous generations, however, there has never been a time when the pace of change has advanced so quickly, and never before had a generation embraced that change with such gusto as the boomer generation. To wit:

We were the first TV generation. Boomers didn’t invent TV, but we became a huge part of the first audience for TV programming. We grew up watching TV, before any other generation had that opportunity. Perhaps that contributed to our ability to not fear new technologies.

We were always among the first adopters. Every new technology requires “first adopters,” who are the people who inevitably want new technologies as soon as they surface. The buzz generated by first adopters — and their analysis of the functionalities of these new products — further advance the development of products. Perhaps this is most evident in the field of technology over any other area. Among the products we embraced whole-heartedly:

  • Transistor radios. The idea of portable music devices can trace its direct lineage back from the iPod to the compact disc; the Walkman to the cassette tape; 8-track tapes to reel-to-reel; and all the way back to the transistor radio. What would have happened to the technology chain if boomer teens didn’t take it for their own, to make it a financial — and more importantly — social success? And what might have happened if Steve Jobs didn’t weigh in here? He not only took existing technology — namely, the MP3 player — and made it cool and desirable, but completely reshaped the way music would be purchased. He displayed typical boomer behavior to reinvent the old to make the new, then applied it to daily life in a meaningful way.
  • Push-button telephones. Our parents may have been the first purchasers, but boomers were the ones who used them the most in daily communications. When we were old enough to go out on our own, we helped hasten the replacement of older technologies with what would ultimately become today’s digital network. Again, Steve Jobs took existing technology — a burgeoning cell phone market — and stood it on its ear with the game-changing release of the iPhone. What rock ‘n roll had done to the music of our parents, Steve Jobs had done to the world of personal communications.
  • VCRs. Despite the arguments for or against Beta vs. VHS, we are the generation that saved our parents’ VCRs from perpetually blinking “00:00.” We hear today that kids can figure out technology so much faster than their parents, but we were the first generation to which that sentiment was attached. Again, Steve Jobs had an important part in the whole process. Not only had he helped facilitate the distribution and enjoyment of video and movies through the iTunes library, he helped transform their very existence. Through the purchasing of Pixar Studios he announced loud and clear that digitally created images would henceforth play an integral part in the moviemaking process. This was no more felt than in the world of animation. With the release of “Toy Story,” animation no longer had to be defined by the decades-old method of hand-drawn animation cells. And who among us would have ever thought that it would be possible to view videos on our hand-held telephones?
  • Personal computers. The IBM PC may have been the first, but once again, Boomer Steve took an existing technology and made it cooler for his generation, and much easier to use. Boomers have always enjoyed a level of instant gratification. Jobs played to that quality perfectly with the release of Macintosh computers. The visual nature of its graphical user interface — another existing technology — made it a simple transition for boomers, who were by this point parents and even grandparents themselves, to embrace. That in turn made it easier for the next generation to embrace technological change, and so on. It has been argued that the Windows operating system itself may never have existed without the competition represented by Steve Job’s Apple Computer.


Steve Jobs’ poignant words in 2005 reflect the very nature of boomer philosphy heard so often in the music of our day: there is no time like the present … live for today.

Mister Boomer heard a radio interview this past week in which a guest opined that in a study of four and five year olds who were given iPads, they as a group intuitively knew how to operate the devices and had no trouble doing so. These children will grow up in a completely different world thanks to the efforts of one boomer — Steve Jobs — and the boomers he employed.

Mister Boomer often recalls the ’60s and ’70s with great nostalgia. Yet in those times, very few of us could envision the world of communications and technology as it is today. It took a few boomer visionaries like Steve Jobs, and a whole lot of boomer willingness to embrace the change for the better, that has shaped our world today. Mister B is reminded of a quote from Bobby Kennedy that seems apropros to Mr. Jobs:
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

On a personal note, Mister B’s life has been changed dramatically due to Apple products. First, he has been a great fan of Macintosh computers since their introduction, and has been using them on a daily basis since 1986. Of course, he, along with hundreds of millions of people around the world, owns an iPod. Mister B bought one for his wife shortly after the release in 2001, then promptly bought his own in 2003. It’s still in operation today. Indeed, misterboomer.com would not have appeared as it is today were it not for Mister Boomer’s Macintosh. These posts are written, edited and posted on an iMac, which is the fourth Apple computer Mister B has owned. Thank you, Mister Jobs. Our world is a more connected place because you saw what could be, and made it happen.

What do you think about the passing of our fellow boomer, Steve Jobs, boomers?