PITTSFIELD — Ever since I can remember, back to school was a downer. Gone were the 10 a.m. rolls out of the sack, endless hours of pick-up games, Camp Russell, and doing just plain nothing. The Fourth of July parade, firemen's muster, drum corps competition and fireworks are now ancient history, and history became a subject that must be tolerated for another year.
But dutifully, though reluctantly, it was up-and-at-'em around 7:30. No need for an alarm clock, the good folks at GE blasted a shift change whistle that could wake all of Pittsfield. I mean, you really could hear it!
1950 saw me returning to St. Joseph's for the fourth grade, the year for parsing sentences, long division, geography and more cursive penmanship with a quill pen and an inkwell in the top right hand corner of the desk. But it was those early mornings that were the toughest part.
What was it like in the absolute middle of the 20th century? Oh yes, we had running water and a stove and refrigerator. We even had a toaster that required you to flip the bread when it was done on one side, and with a little practice you could do it without touching the bread.
One TV, one channel
But what was it like in our family kitchen? There were TVs by then, although we were a year away from our first one, and even if you were fortunate enough to have one, WRGB was the only channel, and they didn't start broadcasting until 4 in the afternoon. Also, be assured that a household's only TV set was located in the parlor, not the kitchen.
My Dad was teaching at Pittsfield High in those days, so with three of us heading out to school, Mom would provide us with a family breakfast. The Berkshire Evening Eagle back then was just that. It would be late afternoon before it was delivered so it was the radio that would help us get the sleep out of our eyes, bring us up-to-date on our world, and give us an excuse to guzzle down that first cup of coffee. Someone, of course, had to turn on the radio and wait about 45 seconds for the tubes to warm up!
At 7:45 a.m., the mellow voice of WBEC's Dana Jones would welcome us with a familiar theme and "Good morning boys and girls, it's story time." There were recordings (78 RPM, of course) of the story, and for 15 minutes we were treated to the likes of "Wilber the Whistling Whale" and my favorite, "Johnny Appleseed," which took three days to complete.
Dana would sign off at 8, and at our house a quick switch was made from WBEC to WBRK. "News while it is news, the Yankee Network News Service is on the air," and the weather "From Eastport to Block Island" led into the local news at 8:10. That would bring on Bob Youse, first with the news and then the "1340 club" with its theme, "Let's have another cup of coffee and let's have another piece of pie." On the days when there was no school, we would tune back to WBEC and catch Dana Jones "on the sunny side of the street."
Dana Jones and Bob Youse, though on competing stations, were two great examples of radio hosts who were part of the fabric of the community. They were truly part of the family.
Bob and Dana show
I recall an occasion in the early 1970s when the Pittsfield Kiwanis Club held a major fund-raiser to furnish the kitchen of the first halfway house in Pittsfield. It was called a radio fun night, broadcast on both stations, with local talent and celebrities and was co-hosted by none other than Bob and Dana, appearing together for the first time.
People called in all night with pledges and requests for songs and other embarrassing chores for club members. My mother called in a pledge if I would shave off my "ugly" moustache, which got the ball rolling and more than $100 was realized. My buddy Bill McGurk did the honors, but at least it wasn't on TV.
The fundraiser was an incredible success thanks to these two fine gentlemen from the heyday of radio. I still think back to my mother's warm kitchen, the silky, soothing voice of Dana, and the pleasant chatter of Bob.
But the first day of school still stinks.
A long-time Pittsfield resident and former City Council president, Joseph W. Ryan is an occasional Eagle contributor.