(Pictured L to R: singer Harry Babbitt and bandleader Kay Kyser, who were enjoying a big hit in the summer of 1948.)
Reader Ken commented recently that he doesn’t think we’re interested in the 1940s. Not exactly true. I just haven’t found a reason to write about the 40s—until now.
July 22, 1948, was a Thursday. President Harry Truman holds a news conference in which he’s asked first about the situation in Berlin. The Soviet Union has blockaded the city, but the Allies have responded with an airlift of food and other necessities. Truman is asked about the November election and the economy, among other topics. The Associated Press reports that 3,603 polio cases have been reported so far this year in the United States, over a thousand more than the same period in 1946, which was the worst polio year on record. The Chicago Tribune prints the story on the same page as a story about the discovery of a new antibiotic, aureomycin, and next to a report about 132 people departing from Chicago to a shrine to the Virgin Mary at St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, seeking cures for various ailments. In Newfoundland, voters decide by referendum to join the Canadian confederation. It was the second vote in two months; an earlier vote failed when neither Canadian union, continued union with Britain, nor independence reached 50 percent. Although it wasn’t on the ballot, some Newfoundlanders favored becoming an American possession.
Ten big-league baseball games are played, including three doubleheaders. In one of them, the Pittsburgh Pirates take the first game from the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3, but the second is called on account of darkness, tied 1-1. In New York, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 6-5; Bob Feller pitches five innings and gets the loss; he’s lifted for a pinch hitter and is replaced in the sixth by Satchel Paige. Joe DiMaggio has a home run and four RBIs for the Yankees. Among the spectators is an eight-year-old Ohio boy named Jack Nicklaus, who is attending his first major-league game. Future novelist S. E. Hinton, who will write The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, among others, is born. Author Shirley Jackson, whose short story “The Lottery” has become controversial since it was published in The New Yorker last month, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that she hoped to shock readers with “a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”
The current edition of The Billboard reports on recent TV coverage of the Republican National Convention, suggesting that politicians will quickly need to learn how to adapt their personal styles to the new medium. On the same page, readers learn that NBC will begin sending kinescopes of its programming to affiliates not connected by coaxial cable, to make network shows more widely available. NBC advises that not all programs will be kinescoped, and there will obviously be a time lag between the original broadcast and the kinescoped repeats. The lag may be greater in some cases due to the economizing practice of “bicycling,” in which one station receives the kinescope film, broadcasts it, and then sends it on to another station for broadcast there.
The Billboard also contains its weekly Honor Roll of Hits. The #1 song on the list is last week’s #2, “Woody Woodpecker,” inspired by the popular cartoon character and available in four different versions. The Kay Kyser version is the most popular. The previous week’s #1, “You Can’t Be True, Dear,” falls to #2. It’s available in at least 13 versions. Organist Ken Griffin’s instrumental version is the most popular at the moment, although the same recording with overdubbed vocals by Jerry Wayne was a hit in the spring. Holding at #3 is “My Happiness.” Buyers can choose from 11 different versions. A duet by Jon and Sondra Steele is the most popular, just nosing out versions by the Pied Pipers (a vocal group who have performed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and its singer, Frank Sinatra) and Ella Fitzgerald. Four days earlier, a 13-year-old named Elvis Presley recorded himself singing “My Happiness” at the Memphis Recording Service as a gift for his mother.
Perspective From the Present: I am unable to find detailed TV listings for the summer of 1948, but my guess is that early adopters (only 0.4 percent of the population had sets in 1948) saw a lot of test patterns. During the 1947-48 TV season, only NBC and DuMont offered network primetime programming, and then for only a couple of hours a night at most. Summer might have been even quieter. Come fall, however, ABC and CBS would begin primetime programming, and the TV boom would be on.