Sunday, April 08, 2007

RIchard Eyre - Oral History

Richard Eyre Oral History Project
Interview with Richard Eyre
Date of Interview: 25 March 2007, Salt Lake City, Utah
Interviewer: Eli Eyre
Transcriber: Eli Eyre

Eli: This is Eli Eyre here with my father, Richard Eyre. We are going to do an interview reflecting back on my father’s life and his experiences with media. Thanks for doing this dad.
Richard: No problem
Eli: Okay let’s start with your family; tell me a bit about them.
Richard: Well, I grew up in Logan, Utah and was the oldest of four brothers and we had a little sister. While I was born in Baltimore and then lived briefly in other parts of Utah, I grew up and most of my childhood was in Logan, Utah.
Eli: And you were the oldest of the kids?
Richard: That’s correct.
Eli: I want to hear about you experiences with the media in your childhood. My life has been different I have had the internet and now things like HDTV. Tell me about your first experience you ever remember with media.
Richard: Well, when I was a little boy even before I started school. I used to love to listen to radio programs; radio adventure shows if you will and I would go in and lay down on the carpet in front of the big console radio, the radio must have been, I would guess it was as big as a standard cabinet today. Forty-five inches across and maybe three feet high and it has some big knobs up near the top of it and the speakers were down by the floor. I would lie on the floor and listen to some of my favorite shows, some of my favorites were Sky King, a cowboy who flew on an airplane to catch the bad guys, then there was Batman, there were a lot of sort of comedy shows like the Howdy Dudey show. I think the interesting things about listening to radio for a child is that you had a monitor but the monitor was in your own head Eli, it was in your mind, and you would see it. I would see the cowboys, I would see Sky King get in his airplane or getting on his horse, I would see Roy Rogers and Dale Evert and Trigger the Horse and Bullet the Dog. I’d see the Lone Ranger and his loyal sidekick Tanto who called the Lone Ranger Kimosabe, but I would see them in the monitor of my mind.
Eli: It’s interesting that you remember seeing all of those names without ever even actually seeing them. Did you ever used to listen with your family, with your brothers and sisters? Or did you like to do it on your own?
Richard: I don’t ever remember listening to the radio with my family, but what I do remember is later in life when they had some of the same shows on television I remember looking at them and saying to myself, “Well that’s not how the Lone Ranger looked, that’s not how Kimosabe looked” because I had a different picture in my mind than what they put on the T.V. and invariably I liked mine better, I liked what I imagined them as better than what I saw on T.V.
Eli: Do you remember a lot of your friends being into radio? Would you go and listen together with them?
Richard: Well those earliest memories were by myself but, as I got older, what I remember listening to most was baseball games. And as a third or fourth grader I had two favorite teams; I had the Cleveland Indians in the American League and the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League. That’s when there were only eight teams in each league, and I would listen to baseball games all the time. I would sometimes listen to them with my friends. We also had baseball card, and our visuals in those days of radio were baseball cards. So we would have baseball cards there as we listened to the radio. So if Stan Musial was batting, I would have his baseball card there and I could see his picture and I could turn the card over and see his batting average and how many home runs he had hit. I would trade cards with all of my friends and we would compare notes on having listened to the games. And the announcers then in the days of radio were much better than the ones on television, because of course they would describe everything they would only say “here comes the pitch, it’s a ball the count is two and one,” they’d say, by the way “so and so is up warming up in the dugout and here is one of assistant coaches on third base giving the sign to steal second.” So they would tell you about the whole baseball game, all of subtleties as they were your eyes. They had to tell you everything you couldn’t see.
Eli: That’s fascinating. Okay, so you had the radio, and then along comes the television. Do you remember the first time you saw a television and where you were?
Richard: I think the first time I ever saw a television or at least paid any attention to one was at my friend Craig Peterson’s house. He lived through the block and we were friends, and I remember going to his house one day and there they had a television. It was one of those really old ones with a round screen and a very snowy picture. He was over there watching Howdy Dudey on TV and I thought it was pretty amazing, everyone thought it was amazing. A couple of years after that, maybe less than that, we got our first TV and it was a little bigger as they had progressed a bit, it was maybe 10 inches wide and they were starting to try to make them into a square. The top and bottom were straight and then the sides were still round. It was like a round picture with the top and bottom cut off. And then my family started watching together. We would get our dinners, we thought the coolest thing of all was getting our dinners on TV trays and go in the living room and sit with our TV trays and sit and eat, sometimes we would even have TV dinners and they called them, which were dinners that you could, it was before microwaves of course, but you could put them in the oven and warm them. I remember we always used to watch the “Lawrence Welk Show”, that was a variety show that would bring on different singers and acrobats and different things and we would sit there and watch and I remember they had a bubble machine on the show. When Lawrence Welk would come out he would say “turn on the bubble machine!” and bubbles would come out and across the stage and then he’d announce his first act.
Eli: So it was kind of like a talk show of today?
Richard: No, not a talk show a variety show. He was just the announcer who would bring on singers, dancers, trapeze artists. I remember he had one singer that I really liked who had a very deep voice, his name was Larry Looper. And he’d say “please welcome Larry Looper,” then Larry would come out and sing a song about to octaves lower than anyone else could sing. Then there was another comedy show called the Red Skelton show, he was like a Bob Hope type of guy only much earlier. He would basically come out and tell jokes.
Eli: So you mentioned you liked baseball on the radio, do you remember the first time that you saw it on TV?
Richard: Yes, it wasn’t long after that, maybe a couple of years after I first saw TV. You would occasionally get a baseball game on TV. I think it was only the World Series though. I don’t think we saw much of the regular season. When TV started there were only three channels. In those days it was ironically the same channels as the network channels today in Salt Lake, there in Logan. It was channel 2, 4, and 5. And they each had their own lineup of shows. They were CBS, ABC, and NBC. And they started producing baseball games once in a while, but really only the World Series. It was kind of hard to see the game though because don’t forget we are talking about black and white TV with a lot of snowiness. In Logan, where I lived rabbit ears wouldn’t do it; you had to have an antenna on top of your house. And you couldn’t control it from inside the house. So you had to set it the best you could and some stations were clearer than others. I remember you could not actually see the ball. You could see the players pitch the ball, or the players running, but you couldn’t see the ball because it was too small and it was white like all of the snow on the TV.
Eli: When the TV came out did you find yourself going away from the radio or did you still go back and listen to the Lone Ranger every once in a while?
Richard: That is a very good question, I think that the TV did kind of pull kids my age away from the radio, although like I say, especially with the unclear pictures of TV, the monitor in my brain was vastly superior to what I saw on the TV screen but you know how technology is, when there is something with a picture on it everyone wants to see that instead of using the radio. Probably the only kids who would listen to radio by then were the ones who didn’t have a TV.
Eli: What did you parents think about TV, did they allow you to watch? When I was growing up I never got to watch until I was done with my homework.
Richard: No, in those early days when TV was so new that I don’t remember any rules, it was like they would watch it with us.
Eli: So nowadays in people’s lives, especially in kids it seems like they are consumed by television to the point where it is degrading. Was it like that at all?
Richard: No I think that the interesting thing about early radio and TV is… of course radio, going back to radio for a minute, before television people listened to the radio a lot and they would listen actively. Now we think of radio as something that can go on in the background. We’ll have it on while working, reading or studying. But in those days radio was something that you gave full attention to. You would sit down and listen to the whole baseball game or the whole adventure show, or you would sit down and listen to music and you would just sit there and that would be the thing you do. And there were a lot of radio stations, well not tons, but they were all AM so you couldn’t get them from very far away. So each town only had a couple, maybe only one if it was very small. Logan finally got two radio stations so they had to put a variety on. You couldn’t have a station that was just country music or another station that was just sports or something. They would have to program a large variety so you would get the schedule which often was in the newspaper. And you would say “Okay well here is my favorite sports show, or Sky King or Lone Ranger” and you would find out what time they were. They would usually be on at the same time each day. But I don’t think parents were too worried about content because it was just a variety of things they didn’t care if you listened. Television was the same way in its early days, three channels that didn’t broadcast all day. Some of the stations only came on from like five in the evening until ten at night and I remember watching the end of the news and then there would just be a test pattern on the TV and it would be over for the day. So there wasn’t enough on there to be specialized or to have stuff that parents would worry about. Now maybe some parents were worried, but not many because the parents would be right there watching with them.
Eli: Interesting. So here’s a question. You were a little boy; you remember seeing a baseball game on TV for the first time. What do you think your reaction would have been if you saw a game on in HD when you were that age?
Richard: Ha ha. Well I do remember the first time that I saw color television, and I was like “whoa! What is that?” I was actually up in another town. I was a newspaper boy and I was out in the evening trying to get new subscriptions to the Logan Herald Journal, we were up in Preston, Idaho of all things. And somebody had a color TV, a really early color TV. And these early color TVs were really horrible color, but were very bright, you couldn’t miss one. I went in to this house and saw the TV and these yellows and blues and stuff on there and I couldn’t believe it. I thought that will never take off, it was too exotic and colors were too hard, so I was really amazed the first time I saw color TV. So if I saw HDTV as a kid I would have gone nuts.
Eli: A lot of historical events have occurred during your lifetime, do you remember any one of them in particular that you first heard about via the media? Something that really amazed or surprised you?
Richard: Well, see most of these things I have been telling you about happened in the 50’s. And in the 50’s the Korean War was going on but I do not remember any news casts. I am sure TV got started on news casts then, but on radio there was always news. If you wanted to see visuals of news then you would actually go to the movies. Did you know that at the movies in those days before the movie would come on you would always have a cartoon and then a newsreel? And the newsreel was filmed news footage from the Korean War or wherever the news was taking place. Why didn’t they have more news on TV in the early days I am not sure, but I think perhaps in those days film and television were pretty separate. In the TV shows you would see like Lawrence Welk, they were not filmed, they were live shows that the TV would pick up out of the air. And I don’t think they had figured out how to use film and send it out over the air. I do remember a little later, news getting started on TV; Walter Cronkite and other newscasters that you would watch on TV. But still most people got their news from newspapers and not from the electronic media at all.
Eli: That’s very interesting. The last question I have is… I know you have seen a lot of things on the media in your life, TV, radio, all sorts of media, but is there one particular thing or innovation that has happened that really just stands out above all the rest?
Richard: Well, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon…and it was televised. That is the amazing thing. We are talking about 1969 in the summer and by then I was a college student almost to get married by the way. And we watched on live television as Neil Armstrong stepped out of a spacecraft and put his foot down on the moon and said live, we could hear him say this live on TV. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And it was like a moment like none other because not only was it the most amazing thing that I had seen, but I was actually seeing it as it happened. And so that was pretty amazing.
Eli: So everyone was just blown away?
Richard: Yes, and I don’t know the numbers, I don’t know if they tracked numbers there, but I bet everyone in America with the exception of people who were sick or blind, they were all watching Neil Armstrong.
Eli: Well thank you, that gives us a picture of what media was like for you as you were growing up, and how it has evolved up until today. It will be great for your grandkids and my grandkids as well to listen to and hear of your experiences.
Richard: They’ll interview you and say “What was it like when all you had was some silly high definition television? When you didn’t have virtual reality.”
Eli: Well, thank you very much.
Richard: You are welcome.

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