by MORTON BRYER
Larry Michie’s recently-posted Simesite piece “Happy Talk Instead of the News”, jogged my memory of what tv news was like in ancient times, meaning before the Second World War. I scraped away the cobwebs and I actually remembered seeing my very first tv news program, which I caught in the lounge of the Trans-Lux Newsreel theater, at Broadway and 72nd street, on the evening of September 3, 1939. I went to the theater with my father to see the latest newsreels from Europe, since that very morning the Brits and French had declared war on Hitler’s Germany. There was no footage yet on the actual fighting, since in those days it took about a week to get film over the Atlantic, usually, I think, via the Pan Am clipper from Lisbon, but there was background material and photos.
At that time, there were either two or three tv stations broadcasting in New York. According to Google, there were only about 1,000 tv sets in the whole metropolitan area. These were scattered around a few wealthy homes, bars and theater lobbies.
I still remember that the anchor man that night in ’39 was seated at a plain regular desk and merely read off the latest bulletins, probably from the Associated Press or the United Press wire services. But the announcer did hold up blow-ups of the photos that they had received from overseas showing Germans advancing rapidly through Poland and the Poles speedily retreating. You could see photos of bombs hitting Warsaw and pictures of Chamberlain making his famous declaration of war speech. It was a fascinating experience to actually see all this on a screen, instead of just hearing a voice telling it to you on the radio or reading it in a newspaper.
To fast forward to 2007 and Larry’s story, which in my opinion was right on, I’ve been watching the same network news program in the mornings for over three decades and am now ready to pack it in. Two giggling gals do the anchor job and, as though that weren’t annoying enough, they then switch from a cackle to a very serious puss at the drop of a body. And there have been lotsa bodies dropping lately.
Nowadays, I frequently switch to Fox, which is always lively, if not objective, and also CNN. These two cable operations remind me of the Hearst vs. Pulitzer feud during the years of yellow journalism in the late 19th century.
My local burg, Norwalk, Connecticut, has its own station, with a complete news staff, anchor person, weatherman and even a sportscaster, though I have a sneaking suspicion, at the end of day, they all get handed brooms to clean the station. Said anchor person looks like his suit was picked up at our local Wal-Mart, but it is a conservative stack of threads. Excellent for local news and commercials for neighborhood emporiums.
However, being an incorrible news freak, I try to watch all the channels I’m fed by cable service, including the BBC, French news, Deutsche Welle, Polish news, RAI, Spanish language stations (lotsa them around nowadays), and if I need a snooze, PBS, a sure cure for insomnia.
I find the Beeb fairly objective, and their half hour news program or “programme” well produced, courtesy of the U.K. taxpayer.
French news, also on for a half hour at 7 pm, with subtitles in English, is my favorite news program for the past few years. Very mature, objective. I find some of the local news quite interesting. Typically of the French, there are frequent programs on Gallic grub. Last week, they interviewed some French troops stationed in Kosovo, and they shot the program during a chowdown. The camera focused for a few seconds on the food, which looked quite tasty, especially compared to the swill served to our brave lads and lasses in the armed services. In my second life, I want to serve in the Boy Scouts, otherwise, the French army. Moreover, the troops were drinking WINE, though one wimp insisted on chug-a-lugging beer. Doubtless he hailed from Alsace. If you served wine or beer to our brave warriors in Iraq, I bet there would probably be a congressional investigation. Booze is just for officers and politicos! At home, I usually try to organize it so that I’m about to sit down to dinner before French news starts. Sort of an aperitif.
Alas, RAI Italian news and Polish news do not have translations, but both look quite interesting and the commercials on Polish news, advertising local New York sawbones, dentists and beaneries, I find amusing, and occasionally prompts from me a guffaw. Stash, pass the kelbosi!
Spanish language news programs, also no translations (I understand a bit of pigeon Spanish) can also be amusing, especially the commercials. “Un gran Mac”, “Bebe Coca Cola” or one for “Boogerking” are a gas. Lotsa more blood and guts on their shows, than on OUR newscasts, by the way.
Deutsche Welle, German, but for some odd reason, broadcast out of Brussels, is very well done, in my opinion, with their anchor Herren speaking perfect English. The other night, they did a piece on a German sub, deep sixed off the Norwegian coast in ’45 and now leaking mercury, much to the alarm of the locals. And with still the bodies of over 70 swabbies aboard.
Finally, if you live in the States and have problems catching your forty winks, I suggest you tape one of the PBS news programs and watch it at bedtime. I predict you’ll be in the arms of Morpheus posthaste.
As a postscript, let me add that I was in Virginia about ten days ago and a local station in Hampton Roads covered the massacre of the students at Virginia Tech. The anchor fellow, an immense hulk of a guy, said with a drawl: “Those students are now upstairs”. That to me was a new way of describing splitting for St. Pete’s gate.
Love the news, the more, the merrier! Next trip south, I must check out the local station in Picayune, Mississippi!