Thursday, April 26, 2007

I'm on the Monitor beacon . . . NBC Monitor beacon


Bloop. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Bloop.

If you are of a certain age -- and I am of a certain age -- you well remember the "Monitor beacon," and the "kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria" of a weekend radio program that it announced for almost 20 years from 1955 to early 1975 . . . the National Broadcasting Company's Monitor.

I loved Monitor when I was a kid, listening to it over WJBO, 1150 AM, in Baton Rouge, La. Monitor was big-time network radio. Monitor was exotic and sophisticated and brought the world into the living room -- into the transistor radio -- of our blue-collar, refinery-worker household someplace physically and sociologically far, far away from NBC's "Radio Central" at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

New York City, that is. Skyscrapers . . . Broadway stars.


YEAH, the music folks like Gene Rayburn and Joe Garagiola played was pure middle-of-the-road "parent music," though it had its moments. But Joe Garagiola was my favorite sportscaster, and Gene Rayburn was the avuncular host of
The Match Game on TV.

I remember one time, when I was little, we were watching The Match Game on TV and they made a random call to somewhere in the country. The phone rang in our kitchen. Fellow said he was Gene Rayburn. My mother didn't believe him (you'd have to know my mother).

The conversation went something like this, from the Baton Rouge end of Ma Bell's phone network:

"Hello?"

(Mama listens for a while.)

"Yeah? Weyul, ah'm Jimmy Durante, and you can kiss mah ass!"

(Click.)
SHORTLY AFTERWARD on the television, Mr. Rayburn, laughing, announced that the callee didn't want to play The Match Game today.

Oops.

I'm truly sorry that Gene Rayburn passed away some years back. I never got the chance to apologize to him on my mother's behalf . . . and to ask whether I might play The Match Game in her stead.

BUT WAIT . . . this post is about Monitor.

Anyway, to me, Monitor, was magic. It had a little bit of everything -- news, talk, music, features and comedy. And it went all weekend long -- 40 continuous hours at its height. For a while, it ran from 8-10 (Eastern) weeknights, too.

Monitor probably was the most ambitious thing ever done on radio. And Monitor was NPR's All Things Considered long before there was even a National Public Radio to put it on. Only funner.

I've been thinking a lot about Monitor the past couple of days -- lamenting the loss of radio like Monitor is more like it. And I've been spending some time on the Web, at the Monitor Tribute Pages, reading . . . and listening.

Monitor was radio as run by the "grownups," of whom there are only a few in broadcasting these days. Radio like that wasn't usually my default when I got to be a teen-ager -- just before Monitor's demise -- but it was always good to drop in now and again, you know?

It was good to know that there was a place on the dial where the adults were in charge, and where they were smart, and witty, and serious when they needed to be. And where the grownups weren't quite as square as we would have liked to imagine at the time.

BACK IN THE DAY, Monitor represented -- in a radio-broadcasting kind of way -- the best of us. It was radio that played to our curiosity, to our intelligence and, ultimately, to the best aspects of our God-given nature. In tragic contrast, radio today sometimes strikes me as some sort of cross between a fart joke and a hate crime.

I miss the days when we were almost as smart -- and almost as "grownup" -- as Monitor.


* * *

UPDATE: Reader, and major Monitor fan Louis weighs in with more on the show:

I'm also of an age that I remember Monitor. In fact, I listened to it every weekend on WDSU in New Orleans. But, when WDSU carried the Chicago White Sox games (for whatever reason), I'd listen to Monitor on WJBO which was just 90 miles away. I liked Monitor for all the reasons that you mentioned. And I even liked the music.

Monitor was the brainchild of Pat Weaver, the creative president of NBC in the 1950's who created Today, Tonight, the Home show, and the TV spectacular. This was an era when broadcasters had high hopes for the medium as an educational tool.

Monitor included broadcasters like Dave Garroway, Henry Morgan, Hugh Downs, David Brinkley, Morgan Beatty, Jim Fleming, and a bunch of other broadcasting legends. It truly was the kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria that Pat Weaver and Jim Fleming envisioned.

And you're right. It was funnier than NPR, much funnier. It had Nichols & May, Bob & Ray, Selma Diamond, Ernie Kovacs, and Jonathan Winters. How could it miss?
And Louis seconds my motion that you go forthwith to the Monitor Tribute Pages. Follow the links in this post.

2 snappy rejoinders:

geomop said...

Hi. I enjoyed your post. I run The Ernie Kovacs Blog and mentioned it in my latest
update.

You can always visit us at:
The Ernie Kovacs Blog
The Ernie Kovacs Tribute Site
and The Ernie Kovacs MySpace Page.

Thanks!

mark pierson said...

Great thoughts on "Monitor". I was pre-teen when my parents used to listen to it, both on the radio in our living room, and in the car. I remember Gene Rayburn's cheery voice and Joe Garogiolla and his energy and enthusiasim. And "The Beacon", who could forget that sound?

Yep, "Monitor" was a big part of my young life. I wonder if the "communicators" themselves had any idea the good impressions they left on their listeners? I miss them and the show.