Some years ago that perennial teenager, Dick Clark, penned the phrase “The Soundtrack of Our Lives” to describe the collection of music that spans the life of the baby boomers. I think that is probably one of the best descriptions of the impact that music had on us. I believe that of all the generations across time, music has probably had the biggest impact on the baby boomers.
I believe that one of the driving forces for that has to be availability. It was during the formative years of the baby boomers that high quality music became available anywhere with the advent of the 45 RPM record and transistor and car radios becoming the norm. At the same time Television was replacing radio as the primary delivery mechanism for broadcast programs, be that news, drama, or variety entertainment. Radio moved to free form music shows and history was made. Radio moved from one golden age to another; Rock and Roll!
The first car I remember my family having didn’t have a radio but the next one did. We never went anywhere without that radio blaring out my Mom and Dad’s favorite tunes. WIVY, WJAX and WMBR playing out those 40s and 50s standards eventually gave way to WPDQ and WAPE belting out the early rock and roll hits as we kids got to pick what the family listened to as we drove around town during the first decade of rock and roll.
Baby Boomers had music available not only in the car but almost everywhere they went thanks to the transistor. Solid state electronics transformed the portable radio from a big, heavy almost suitcase sized burden to something that can be carried on a strap or placed in the picnic basket for listening in the park or on the beach. And we took advantage of that too. We had music everywhere we went. I remember strapping a portable radio to the handlebars of my bicycle and riding all over the place with music in my ears.
By the time that I was in broadcasting, transistor radios had shrunk to the size of a pack of cigarettes and we had them tucked in everywhere. Headphones had not advanced very far and those 1 ½ inch speakers had a pretty tinny sound but if you held them up to your ear, they almost sounded good. It was about then that teenagers began to sneak them into bed at night and I would get phone calls at the station from teeny-boppers who wanted to dedicate songs to their boyfriends who were listening in their own beds across town. When things didn’t go well in those teen age romances, I would often be playing songs for some broken hearted girl who caught her boyfriend with her best friend. Somehow, the music coming through those small speakers made it a little better. I can just imagine that the following morning, their mothers would come in to wake them up only to find them cuddled up with the transistor radio and the princess phone. Once in a while, I would hear from a mother who would thank me for being there to comfort her broken hearted daughter in her time of need. I think there was some relief there to find out that that radio DJ was just an ordinary guy that enjoyed music and making people feel good. I don’t think that today’s radio automation system gets to participate in too many of those conversations. Radio was more than an entertainment medium; it was part of a baby boomer’s growing up.
I don’t think for the most part, Gen – Xers and the kids from the Gen Y generations have as tight a bond with music as the baby boomers. I think a lot of that was the depersonalization of the delivery mechanism; radio automations systems, and those things that followed; iTunes, Pandora and the other online systems. It was more than just the music, it was the whole package. Oh MY!