“SHH! The radio is on!” : My Chat with Marguerite

I chose to interview my grandmother on my mother’s side, Marguerite Barclay. Marguerite was born to an Irish Catholic family in 1928. She grew up in the Los Angeles area with her two sisters and three brothers. Though her family moved around quite a bit, she lived in Monterey Park for an extended period of time.

I invited Marguerite to talk about any media that she used as a child/teen, but our conversation was geared mainly towards radio and television. Throughout the course of our interview, I picked up on a few striking similarities to the interviews in “ ‘We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montana’ : Girlhood, Popular Culture, and Mass Media in the 1940s and 1950s” (Hains, Thiel-Stern, Mazzarella).

At the start of our interview, Marguerite made it very clear that as a child, the media was not an immensely important part of her life. In fact, Marguerite explained that “When friends were over, we played outside.” She listed off all sorts of outdoor activities, including kick the can, jacks, paper dolls, and throwing pocket knives (what?!). This response was similar to Hains, Thiel-Stern, and Mazzarella’s research, in which “The majority of [the] fifteen informants focused on outdoor play.”

It wasn’t until I inquired about specific media preferences that Marguerite was more willing to share about them. She recalls the radio having a bigger presence in her childhood than any other type of media. Not to mention, listening to the radio was an experience for the whole family: “That was the only type of entertainment you had, and the entire family would sit around and listen. Everybody was quiet when the radio was on. You had to leave the room if you were too loud!” This was a similar theme among the participants in Hains, Thiel-Stern, and Mazzarella’s research, who noted that “much media use was family centered – in particular listening to radio programs, watching early television programs, and movie-going.” Marguerite recalled being upset when her older brother was allowed to stay up and listen to the late radio show, while she was sent to bed. On special nights when she was able to convince her parents to let her stay up, she would “fall asleep in the middle of the show!” Clearly, though the radio was not a consistent part of my grandmother’s daily life, it was often something that she looked forward to. As for specific radio shows/programs, Marguerite noted that “There were daytime programs, like a soap opera. Everyday something was added to the [previous] episode.” Marguerite especially enjoyed listening to comedians on the radio, like “Jack Benny – he was really funny.”

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Marguerite also tuned into another comedic show, The Great Gildersleeve, which was a spin-off of another radio show called Fibber McGee and Molly. Another favorite was a nighttime show called I Love a Mystery – a radio program about three adventurous detectives (WIKI).

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Marguerite did not watch television on a regular basis until she was married. In fact, her new husband (my grandfather) was a door-to-door TV salesman! As my grandmother explained, early television sets were not technologically reliable: ““Half the time you couldn’t get them to work, you couldn’t get a good picture.There weren’t a lot of channels either.” Despite early tech issues, my grandmother did have a few favorite shows including I Love Lucy, The Lawrence Welk Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. She was also a big fan of comedian Danny Thomas, who also had his own show.

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Even as a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, CA, it appears that the media did not play a significant role in my grandmother’s early life. However, she did have several favorite programs and was quick to adapt to new technologies as the times changed. As the researchers from the “Hannah Montana” article note, perhaps the experience of the postwar teen is not so cut and dry – there were “a range of different experiences.” Furthermore, having not inquired about it directly, I can only speculate about the ways in which the media influenced teenage Marguerite’s evolving identity.

I think one of the biggest take-aways I have from this interview was sparked at the very beginning of my conversation with Marguertie. I asked my grandma to tell me about the types of media she used as a child, and she replied: “Media? What do you mean by media?” In my opinion, this question illustrates a key difference in our childhoods. I cannot remember a day of my life when I was not inundated by some sort of media, whereas my grandmother grew up in a time where she might sit by the radio with her family for only 15 minutes a day (if she didn’t fall asleep before the program started). Not to mention, I am constantly in contact with different types of media – books, movies, television, podcasts, music, internet, etc. Marguerite, on the other hand, spent most of her free time playing outdoors and listening to the occasional radio show. I think this just goes to show how everyone has a different relationship with media, and this is dependent on multiple factors: when you were born, your gender, and even your personal taste. Despite the differences between myself and my grandma, we do share a favorite book in common: Pride and Prejudice. Fancy that!

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3 thoughts on ““SHH! The radio is on!” : My Chat with Marguerite

  1. Wow! I would have loved to meet your grandmother, she sounds super awesome. As you mentioned, there’s quite a difference in how people spend their free time now as opposed to the mid twentieth century. Our generation fills our free time with gaming, watching television, fiddling with our phones and mp3 players, on the internet, etc…whereas fifty years ago people our age were outdoors, or socializing with the neighborhood kids and walking downtown to get a piece of candy for 50 cents. (Maybe even less?)
    I also liked how you pointed out that the word “media” has different meaning for everyone depending on a handful of factors. I suppose the word “media” was new for the young people of the mid twentieth century.
    Similar to your grandma, media did not influence my aunt (whom I interviewed) and she was born in the early 1950’s. I guess that just goes to show that despite time periods media does not consume the lives of everyone, but it sure does surrounds everyone.

  2. I think it is really interesting how changes in technology affected your grandma’s relationship to media. I loved the contrast between your experience of always being “constantly in contact with different types of media” and your grandmother’s experience. My moms’ description of television being a family activity was very similar to your grandmother’s experience of listening to the radio with her family. I think you were right on target when you emphasized the differences of media consumption over time. It seems to me that the rate of media consumption is equally as important as the media messages being consumed.

  3. THROWING KNIVES, I love it. Also I hope you get to talk to your grandfather more at some point about selling television sets — the early television era was so crazy, and having a first-hand account would be so valuable.

    Like I mentioned in class today, I think that our generations have such different conceptions of what we mean by “media” — and how much it’s interwoven into our daily lives. Your grandmother consumed media, but wasn’t defined by it….and even though we aren’t necessarily either, I do think that the sheer number of media sources available to us, and how we can wed our identity to them, renders them more “identity markers” than, say, watching Jack Benny….because *everyone* was watching Jack Benny. Great post overall, Jess.

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