The bloodstained Chicago paper is a clue

Juke Box Melodrama

Newspapers as an “old media” technology survived the 1950s and struggled into the next century, but this May 1951 episode of Night Beat features an even rarer form of communication — a coin-op juke box with a live d.j., a cross between a telephone switchboard operator and a radio announcer taking phone-in requests.

This story literally puts Randy Stone on the street, describing in deep purple detail the noir sights and sounds of his “about 8 square miles of darkness,” Chicago at night, as he tries to find a story for the column.

(“A brittle laugh of a painted tootsie, rising out of the night, proving to the world she doesn’t care, laughing until the tears come” is about as graphic as family-friendly fifties radio got about certain aspects of the Chicago night.)

Instead, this time he finds a melodramatic little human drama to share with us on the radio. It may not be a story for his readers, since it would give away the O. Henry ending to the parties involved — one of whom runs a sidewalk news stand. Come to think of it, that’s another disappearing media institution, if not as rare as the live Mike box.

Stone also finds plenty of neon colors, sounds of jazz in the night, and — after a comment about keeping up with the competition — a Chicago Sun Times smeared in blood.

It’s worth a listen.

(In addition to the very recognizable voice of Night Beat regular William Conrad — radio’s “Matt Dillon” and TV’s “Cannon” — here as a publicity-seeking actor, the cast includes Betty Lou Gerson, a film, TV and voiceover actress perhaps best known as Cruella De Vil in Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”)

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
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