My grandmother, Kathie Podliska, was born and raised in Pasadena, California in October of 1944. Her father, Robert, was a firefighter while her mother, Margaret, stayed home to care for her and her sister Carol. Pasadena, where I was also born and spent a considerable amount of time with my grandmother, is a large city in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. Only a half hour drive from Hollywood, Pasadena is surrounded by rich media history and has offered her easy access to different forms of mass media throughout her and her children’s lives.
“Wonderful!” She answers excitedly while recalling what it was like to grow up in California.
“Complete freedom. We would get up in the morning in the summer and get on our bikes with our neighborhood friends and someone would feed us lunch, one of the parents, and then when it started getting dark, we’d come home. We were out playing all day long and nobody worried in those days. There were no cell phones, you know, just a different way of life.” Along with that, her parents didn’t ban any music or movies in their household, and my grandmother enjoyed the newspaper, television, radio, movies, and records at different points throughout her life. When it came to hanging out with her peers though, she and her friends didn’t depend on the media to socialize much, and mostly enjoyed art, games, and being outside.
When asked where she got a majority of her news in her life, she said the newspaper. In her household growing up, the Pasadena Star-News was the main newspaper her and her family read, which covered local news and offered things to do in the area. Today, the Pasadena Star-News still exists both in print and digital form, but not every newspaper has had such long-standing success. In the 1950’s, when my grandmother was in her early-to-mid adolescence, newspapers began to face challenges from television.
“In response, paper publishers increased opinion-based articles, and many added what became known as op-ed pages. An op-ed page . . . features opinion-based columns typically produced by a writer or writers unaffiliated with the paper’s editorial board” (Understanding Media and Culture, 4.3). Her favorite newspaper section to read is the horoscope column.
About her parents growing up, she says “They loved having records playing in the house, they loved music.” A few of her personal favorite recording artists at the time were The Supremes and Elvis Presley, both of which have had a lasting impact on music decades later. My grandmother remembers her parent’s old 78 player living in the family room of her childhood home. At this time, Columbia Records had already created the 12-inch 33 rpm disc, replacing the 78-rpm disc as the standard (Understanding Media and Culture, 6.2).
Her family were of below-average income, and she remembers records being 25 cents, which is roughly five dollars in today’s economy. “Both,” she tells me when I ask if she relied on records or radio more to find new music “We used to go to the record store every weekend to listen to the new records that we couldn’t afford to buy, but I’d say radio at that point.”
She was brought up towards the end of the “golden age” of radio, during which many families would listen to the radio together at the end of the day before society began slowly transitioning into television (Understanding Media and Culture, 6.2, 7.2). In her youth, before television really exploded, my grandmother remembers listening to the radio mystery programs in the evenings with her family. Still in the golden age but before her generation, in the 1930’s, there were concerns about privacy with radio specifically regarding commercial advertisements (Understanding Media and Culture, 7.2). She laughs as she tells me “I can’t really remember anyone having concerns about commercials, different time.” If there were any concerns in the 1950’s, it wouldn’t matter for long. By the time my grandmother was slightly older, radio was on its way out as the popular form of entertainment. “At that point when I got a little older, we watched television, we didn’t listen to the radio except for music.” she explains, adding “We called it stereo in those days.”
Changes in television production in the 1940’s led to TVs becoming a common household item rather than a luxury only the upper class could afford (Understanding Media and Culture, 9.1). When my grandmother was about five years old, her family became the first in their neighborhood to own a television. When remembering this time, she tells me “Having the first TV in the neighborhood, one of the first things they showed was the Saturday Night Fights, which was a big deal, and all of the neighbors would come over and watch the Saturday Night Fights at our house. That was probably the big event I remember.” She also looks back fondly on watching the limited number of cartoons available in the morning, such as Howdy Doody and Engineer Bill, and shows like The Ed Sullivan Show with her parents in the evenings.
With the limited number of shows available came the test pattern. “Programming was very limited, so there would be long periods during the day where there would be – it was called a test pattern, and there would just be a test pattern on the screen when there was nothing on the TV if you had it on.” She also recalls that products such as Burma-Shave, a shaving cream, and toothpaste were common TV corporate sponsors at the time, with programs such as the Colgate Comedy Hour mentioned in Understanding Media and Culture (9.3).
When raising her own daughters with TV, she provided them much of the same freedom to engage with different forms of mass media that she had, and that included family-oriented shows that covered heavy but important subjects. Some of the shows they watched, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Brady Bunch, have been highlighted for not featuring typical family structures of the time. Understanding Media and Culture states “. . . The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which reflected changing attitudes toward women’s rights by featuring television’s first never-married independent career woman as the central character. Even wholesome family favorite The Brady Bunch, which ran from 1969 to 1974, featured a non-nuclear family, reflecting the rising rates of blended families in American society.” (9.2).
In my grandmother’s life, attending the movies was both a social event and an outing for her family. She recalls that when she was a teenager, walking to the theater or driving to the drive-in was something usually done with your boyfriend. “I always loved any musical … Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, that was one of our family favorites when we could go see that at the theater, anything that was Disney, there wasn’t a lot but there were a few Disney movies.” she explains, continuing with “The Birds scared me to death, I didn’t sleep for several nights after seeing The Birds.” Later in life, she and her husband would take their children to the Hastings Drive-In in Pasadena four or five times a year because it featured play equipment in the front. Despite not going to the movies very often, her favorite actresses were Debbie Reynolds and Rhonda Flemming, the latter of the two being her third aunt.
Today, the form of media my grandmother engages with the most is television. “I like mysteries and game shows. I watch a very limited amount of news right now just because the world is kind of so insanely crazy,” she explains, “ I try to stay away from the negativity at this point in my journey. I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, and a lot of shows where there’s no commercials.” In comparison to when she was growing up, she says that today our mass media focuses heavily on negativity especially the news. The influence of negative news cycles, or mass media in general, isn’t an uncommon concern. “One study found that by the time an average child leaves elementary school, he or she has witnessed 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other acts of violence on television.” (Understanding Media and Culture, 9.2).
When asked if mass media has had an impact on her throughout her life, my grandmother answers “Yes, absolutely!” Similar to in her generation, today’s mass media continues to go through many impactful changes. From news consumption to music streaming, it’s hard to imagine what the future of mass media will look like and how it will affect us later on. As our culture and media continue to take unpredictable and exciting new paths, we can only hope that that impact will be more positive than what is currently being observed.