Boomers Watched Live Shows Decades Before the Internet

The proliferation of all types of live broadcasting through social media these days, specifically Facebook and Instagram, got Mister Boomer wondering about live broadcasts in the boomer years. Surely, he recalls, there were many TV shows that broadcast live. As it turns out, Mister B remembered correctly. TV was a technological marvel of the boomer era, when the majority of households were finally able to afford TV sets, and broadcasting technology had produced a degree of quality that made people want to watch. Boomers grew up with a burgeoning television industry, but today’s kids don’t know a world where there was no internet.

Prior to the appearance of the first practical videotape, it was common practice for TV shows — from sitcoms to news — to be broadcast live. Like radio before it, television began with live broadcasts. A good portion of scheduled programming was locally-based, so live broadcasts did not have to worry about time scheduling conflicts. The alternative was to use film, like movies. A few famous shows, like I Love Lucy (1951) and Gunsmoke (1955), did employ this method.

A key year in the movement away from live TV broadcasting was 1958. Experiments with forms of videotape had been around in various forms even before the War, but the first practical use of it did not evolve until 1951. At that point, it was far too expensive to purchase equipment and tape itself to be a practical replacement for live or filmed broadcasting. By 1958, the television industry began the shift to videotape, signaling the slow retreat from live broadcasting to arrive at where we are today. Boomers recall 1960s sitcoms opening or closing with a voiceover stating that the show was “taped before a live studio audience.” As shows began using videotape, some were accused of using laugh tracks. The voiceover disclaimer was an effort to dispel that notion to give the TV audience more of the feel of the early days of live broadcasting.

Boomers may not realize it, but they bore witness to many historical events when they were broadcast live on their family TV. Here are a few:

• September 4, 1951: The country’s first national, coast-to-coast live TV broadcast featured President Harry Truman’s opening speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco.

• January 14, 1952: The Today Show debuted, live, to East Coast and Central time zone customers. The show continued live until 1958.

• September-October 1960: The Kennedy-Nixon Debates were the first presidential debates that were televised, and were broadcast live. These debates were instrumental in setting John Kennedy on the path to the White House.

• July 23, 1962: Thirteen days after the launch of the Telstar satellite, the first transatlantic live television broadcast was relayed to a receiving station in England. President Kennedy was to give a short speech for the transmission, but due to its orbit around the Earth, there was only a 20-minute period of time the satellite could be used as a relay. That time window appeared earlier than scheduled, so the first transatlantic broadcast was of a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox, live from Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

• November 24, 1963: Following the assassination of President Kennedy the day before, a live broadcast of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being moved to a county jail caught the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Oswald was killed, and Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, subdued and arrested, on live television.

• November 25, 1963: JFK’s funeral was broadcast live to the country.

• December 24, 1968: As the Apollo 8 spacecraft circled the moon for the ninth time, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders gave the Earth its first look at an Earthrise view appearing above the lunar surface, live on TV. To mark the occasion on Christmas Eve, the astronauts, in turn, read passages of the biblical creation story from the Book of Genesis in the King James Bible.

• July 21, 1969: The world watched — live — as astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Mister Boomer clearly remembers most of these live historical broadcasts, including the Nixon-Kennedy Debates, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s funeral and the first moon walk. Mister B was at a family Christmas party when the broadcast images of the Earth rising over the moon from Apollo 8 flickered on his uncle’s black and white television.

The next time a grandchild asks what you, as a boomer, watched before the advent of live social media, you know what to tell them.

How about you, boomers? Any live television memories stand out for you?

Boomers Watched Music Videos Before MTV

MTV turned 40 this week. Certainly it left its mark on the culture, especially the generation immediately following the boomers. Many of us were out working jobs and raising families by the time MTV began broadcasting on July 31, 1981. However, it occurred to Mister Boomer that even though there had not been a channel devoted to music videos 24/7 before MTV, boomers still saw many music videos as far back as the 1950s, aired on various TV shows like the British Top of the Pops, and both national and local programs in the U.S.

The pairing of music and film goes all the way back to the first talkies in the 1920s. In the boomer years, one might argue that every Elvis movie was a promotional spot for the release of a record, and each song in the movie a music video. However, can anyone deny Elvis’ performance of Jaihouse Rock (1957), in that wonderful two-story set, wasn’t a music video? Certainly the Beatles’ movies contained music videos within the plotlines to support record releases, too; but we are talking TV here, not on the big screen.

Music videos in the boomer years were often promotional in nature. Bands in the 1950s and later released them to TV programs around the globe in regions where they weren’t able to tour in person. Others were not intended for public consumption, but found their way to local stations looking to attract a young audience.

Here are just a few early examples:

The Big Bopper– Chantilly Lace (1959)
Many rock historians (and NPR) point to The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson) as the father of modern music videos. He is also credited with coining the phrase, “music video,” in an interview with an English magazine in 1958.

The Animals — The House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Gary Burdon stared directly at the camera several times in this video, and the band even moved around a little at one point. Of course, like many TV performances, there is not a cord in sight; the instruments are not plugged in. But with several camera angles, a minimal set design, and a moving camera, this was an early music video.

Martha and the Vandelas — Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide (1964)
Motown filmed the group singing inside a Ford factory in Detroit.

Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)
This “video” was actually the opening sequence of a documentary called Don’t Look Back by D.A. Pennebake, about Dylan’s first tour in England. What is so memorable about it now is how Dylan, standing in an alley, flips cards with words from the song on them. This scenario has been imitated hundreds of times since by bands of all types.

The Beatles released many promotional videos, including Strawberry Fields, Paperback Writer, Rain, Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, Penny Lane and many more. Their video for Something (1969) featured them with their wives!

David Bowie was also an early-adopter, releasing the video for Space Oddity in 1969.

The Monkees — TV Show (1966-68)
Like The Beatles and Elvis before them, the show was basically a promotion for their records. Each episode introduced their new music in a video within the plot. The difference was, this was made for TV.

The Rolling Stones — We Love You (1967)
This song was the B side of Dandelion in the U.S., but it was the A-side in England. The video, like many of the Beatles’ videos, was a mini-movie in and of itself, purported to be a re-enactment of the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde. You’ve got to see it to believe it, then you’ll say, “yeah, that was 1967 all right”:

Once you go down that road and search for these early music videos, you’ll see how much influence they had on the next generation that appeared on MTV.

How about you, boomers? Do you recall watching music videos 50-60 years ago?