The Milkman, The Paperboy, and Evening TV
How the internet nurtures and kills nostalgia
For some strange reason, I've always been fascinated with pop culture....from 20 years ago. It's been that way since high school. When I was at St. Ignatius, I would spend free periods in the library, poring over issues of Time and Newsweek from the 1970's. In college, I discovered a now defunct site that had audio and grainy video files of TV shows, newscasts, and network ID's from late 70's and early 80's.
By now, you can guess I didn't do much in terms of dating, but I knew NBC's "Proud as a Peacock" jingle backwards and forwards!
Turns out I wasn't alone. When YouTube arrived in 2005, it allowed millions of like-minded people to store our broadcasting history in the cloud. Some uploaded entire basements full of beta tapes to YouTube. Others posted a handful of videos. If you're familiar with my Facebook page (available here), you know that I post at least one video per day. I can't really explain my fascination with media as it was - I do believe we need to preserve our media history. Once you become familiar with past, I believe, the present...and the future...become somewhat easier to comprehend (deep, huh?). Let me give you an example:
When I worked at WGN, I would constantly hear about how the station is not as good as it once was, and that it was on the verge of losing its audience for good. That belief gnawed at the back of my mind...until I dove into the Chicago Tribune archive. There, I found the columns of Gary Deeb, the Tribune's scathing media critic. In 1978, he wrote that WGN needed to hire Bob Sirott (then a DJ at WLS-AM), because 'GN was coasting on Wally Phillips' morning show. Same argument, different decade. The past put the present in perspective.
It was also a time when the media world made sense. You had TV, radio, and newspapers...supported by advertising dollars that couldn't go anywhere else. If I was branching out into media in 1982 instead of 2002 - the path to success was easily defined: small market station to medium market station to large market station to Chicago. Back then, media companies could afford to waste money. That sure isn't the case today.
Which brings me back to people uploading old TV clips to YouTube. We can visit the past...but would you really want to live there? We live in an on-demand world. News, weather, traffic, sports scores, directions, and restaurant reservations are available on your smart phone. Thanks to the DVD, you can watch an entire season's worth of TV shows in one night. Thanks to laptops and wifi, I can watch David Brinkley describe the launch of Apollo 11 at any Panera Bread in America.
My parents watched this very same video, as it happened, on the giant Zenith (or RCA) TV in the living room.
The technology that allows us to visit the world of 1969 ruined the economic model that made those broadcasts possible in the first place. Networks could afford to lose money on news divisions 45 years ago. They can't afford that luxury today.
Of course, this brand of nostalgia can be extended to anything...take the airline industry, for example. I wasn't alive for the heyday of the legacy carrier...but people speak fondly of the airline industry as it existed in the 60's and 70's - the era of hot stewardesses, piano lounges, and other creature comforts. It was a time when Eastern Airlines could call itself "The Wings of Man."
The truth is that the Civil Aeronautics Board set the fares and the routes, so the airlines had to compete on service. It was also the reason why air travel was the exclusive province of business travelers and upper middle class families. Otherwise, you were crammed into the Family Truckster for a cross-country trip to see grandma. Now, Expedia makes it possible to fly across country for 300 bucks. That same journey cost a thousand dollars 20 years ago. Thinner margins mean full planes, fewer flights, and fewer services (five bucks for a blanket?!)...but at least you can afford the trip.
We live in the cloud...and it makes access to information easier in so many ways. Yet we choose to use that power to run headlong into an era when it wasn't available. I'd much rather live here. But this weekend, I think I'll take a trip back to when ABC really was The Place.