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 March, 2007


 A look back at the importance television once had in our lives

Olde Frothingslosh

By Al Owens
I grew up with television. When I was a baby, so was television. The only difference was that I never required rabbit ears - and it never needed to be fed.

We had a large rectangular box with a small oval screen in the middle of our living room that appeared around the time I started school. I still have vivid memories of my father yelling, “How’s that?” from our roof as he was tried desperately to get our antenna set in just the right position to pick up about three available stations at the time. Somehow, the phrase “Serving millions atop the Alleghenies”, (WJAC-TV in Johnstown) still makes me smile. To me, there was a channel 6, before there was a channel 2!
And before there were remote controls we did the unthinkable. We actually had to get out of our chairs, walk over to the television set and change the channel. (I know what you’re thinking. That you’d never dream of such a thing today)

I still recall with warmth the feeling of sitting in a room with every family member, watching the same program, and storing memories that have lasted these many years.

Grandma was partial to Ringside Wrestling. (I’ve never figured that one out) Saturday evenings in our house couldn’t be complete without Bruno Sammartino, Ringside Rosie and Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille. Dad loved the Westerns. Mom loved Dinah Shore. My brother Marlin and I fought daily over the right to watch American Bandstand or cartoons respectively. He was a teenager. I was still not quite aware of the importance of being cool.
Kukla, Fran and Ollie were my friends. Marlin just wanted to do the twist!

Paul Shannon (Adventure Time) was my hero back then. He’d come armed with the Little Rascals and the Three Stooges every weekday afternoon. He and his buddies Knish and Rodney Hackenflash were the reasons I never finished my homework before 6 o’clock.

Then there were Ricki of Ricki and Copper fame. My feelings changed for Ricki over the years. I remember thinking I’d like to have her as a teacher. By the time I reached my early teens, I realized she was HOT!
Oh that magical little screen full of black and white and gray images. Lucy and Ricky were our neighbors in those days. Or at least it felt that way. They’d become so familiar to us, we all must have felt like we could have walked right into their living room, instead of them walking into ours.

In the 1950’s televisions weren’t as reliable as they are today. Once a month (it seems) you’d turn it on and there’d only be a tiny bright spot in the middle of the screen. Or it would roll and you couldn’t control it until you got if fixed.
But minutes after the repairman left – Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Red Skelton (Good night and God bless), Jimmy Durante (Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are) Ed Sullivan, Martha Raye, William Bendix (The Life of Riley), Nat King Cole and Tennessee Ernie Ford (Peas in a Pea Patch) would enter our home as mere entertainers, and never leave our hearts!

I still remember the night (January 30, 1954) that Jackie Gleason (And awa-a-aay we go), (One of these days Alice…) and (How Sweet It Is) got so carried away he actually dislocated foot during a live performance. The audience laughed, but Gleason had to be taken to the hospital.

I remember laughing despite myself at yet another joke about how Jack Benny was so cheap. In fact, every week it seemed like Jack Benny did the same thing. And every week it was funny!

There were the Texaco singers, The June Taylor Dancers and Ready Kilowatt that were probably more entertaining than most of the entertainment programs we see today.

There was Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour that had been American Idol, before American Idol.

Television performed a function that is sadly no longer needed in 2007. With limited sets, visits from family friends and neighbors were organized by the nights of the week of their favorite shows. Mrs. Lulu across the street came over to see The Life of Riley. Joe Brookins planned his visits around Maverick. (He called it Jacks and Queens, since that was part of the lyrics of the show’s theme song)

And there was something that seems to bring smiles to everybody who witnessed it back in the early days of local television, in Western Pennsylvania – Olde Frothingslosh!

Ah, Olde Frothingslosh, the Pale, Stale Ale with the foam on the bottom. I would imagine that there are still those among us who believe such a phenomenon could exist. That’s thanks to KDKA Radio’s Rege Cordic who dreamed up the whole thing as a joke. There was even a television show in which the ale’s brewer - Sir Reginald Frothingslosh IV – introduced the fictitious product.

But within months the non-existent beer became real. The Pittsburgh Brewing Company bought the rights to it and actually started making Olde Frothingslosh.

That, to me, is symbolic of just how powerful television was in those days.
That box with the tiny screen helped us invite storytellers into our homes everyday. Our television sets replaced campfires – as essential community gathering places. And we entrusted our imaginations to people who deserved it.
That is why Olde Frothingslosh was an extended joke that eventually became real. It was so harmless that we could imagine it into existence and we could all see it as a community event.

In 2007 we see the reverse. Television is about reality. Fantasy isn’t as hip as it once was. And somehow we’ve mastered the art of taking that great community experience – where we could dream about things in unison – and we’ve disconnected it and made it an individual experience.

Think about it. If you have five family members – I’ll bet you have five television sets. In the evenings, do you watch five shows in five rooms? Do you wonder what’s happening to the American family?

I don’t drink, but it’s enough to make me want to run out and buy a bottle of Olde Frothingslosh!