The treble of culture

I should have been a kid during the 1930s. Not because I think it would have been so good to grow up during the Great Depression, of course. I have just always had an affinity for the history of that era. There’s much to learn from the times.

Some would say that this feeling I have is “nostalgia,” but since I wasn’t around then it must be something else. I love the music and movies, the architecture and the stories of the resilience of the American people.

When I got my first “real” job (aka “they paid me”) in radio I was not quite 16. It was an FM station in Northern Illinois, at a time when no one was listening to FM. The format was “Big Band.” Immediately I was told, “OK, you’re hired, but what do you know about this music, kid?” Plenty of pressure, from Day One.

I decided to join “The Nostalgia Book Club,” reading all I could about the 1930s and ’40s, working to understand the era, the culture, and most of all the music. Big band music was the rock ’n’ roll of its day. That was also the “Golden Age of Radio.” No TV, no iPads, iPods, DVDs, CDs or Blu-ray. “Records” were played — and they were about the size of manhole covers.

People actually had conversations, not texts and Tweets. They read newspapers and paid attention to world events, whether they wanted to or not. And if you mentioned that you believed in God eyebrows weren’t raised. Americans talked about Victory, too. Political correctness hadn’t begun to flourish.

My youthful nostalgia-immersion plan worked, and I soon found myself quite comfortable in the Big Band radio format. Soon hired by another station across town, I made the move to “adult contemporary” music. Then it was a few years in “Top 40” radio, playing hits from singers who still endure today. Through it all I learned some excellent lessons about being resourceful, and not simply dismissing a genre because it wasn’t “during my time.”

Today, of course, that “adult contemporary” music is now quite nostalgic as well. Much of it lives on, Saturday nights, frozen in time… on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Time passes, and Top 40 hits from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other Rock legends are now called “classic.” I still remember how strange it was to hear the Stones’ “Paint It Black” done as an instrumental, with a “Living Strings” sound… in an office elevator, a few years ago.

Just this week, I was in what I consider to be my “rockin’ out mode” in the car (still embarrasses my kids) cranking up my songs that are stored in my cell phone, singing along, head bobbing.


Notable moments
Then it hit me. As a particular cutting-edge song from back-in-the-day was playing (and I was feeling nostalgic, youthful and contemporary energy) I realized the tune was 45 years old. 45!

Nearly half a century.

Some quick mental math followed: At the peak of my Top 40 radio format career, about 1975, 45 years before then was 1930. Herbert Hoover was president. Sure glad I moved on to talk radio.

By the way, in case you’re much younger and feeling rather smug right now, here’s one that struck my kids the other day: 1995 was 20 years ago. Two decades! No one is immune from all this.

I know, every generation has its soundtrack, and songs tell the stories of the rhythm of our lives. Appreciating the past is a wonderful way to stay positive and take on the future. But wallowing in it can keep us from growing and enjoying the blessings of each day.

Despite increasing life challenges and difficult daily news, these are really our “good old days.” It’s what we do with “the now” that matters… how we create our own living stories and history for the future. That’s what will be remembered in our families and close circle of friends, long after others in our world forget.

Let the music play on.

Mark Larson— by Mark Larson

Larson is a longtime Southern California radio/television personality. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. He is also a news analyst on KUSI TV. Learn more at

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