A Beacon Goes Dark

It was the end of another American cultural icon last week, as TV’s longest continually running show, Guiding Light, sailed off into the sunset. No more Reva, no more Josh, no more Bauers or Spaulding’s or Springfield drama. And all I can say is that I am just damned sad.

According to Wikipedia, “Guiding Light” (known as The Guiding Light prior to 1975, or simply GL) is an Emmy award winning American television program credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the longest-running soap opera in production and the longest running drama in television and radio history. It aired on radio from January 25, 1937 to June 29, 1956 and debuted on CBS Television on June 30, 1952.”

I confess. I used to watch “the stories” with great regularity. Not so much in recent years, but when I did watch, it was Guiding Light all the way. I remember watching it as a kid, and followed the characters and their joys and heartaches as though they were members of the family. Which, in fact, for many of us, they were.

But more than that, it was a break in the day for many women. Up early to prepare meals and do the chores of the day, mid afternoon, when the house was empty or quiet with napping children, women could sit down and escape reality for at least a short period of time.

Of course, women’s hands were never idle. “Soap time” usually found them sitting, but also with darning or mending in hand. (Does anyone remember how to actually “darn” socks?) Or perhaps they peeled vegetables or did some other dinner related task while watching Bert Bauer manage all the troubles of Springfield’s residents, both good and bad. And when the organ chord at the final scene was heard, it was time to get on their feet again and continue the long hard tasks they faced. It was back to real life.

To me, that escapism was the real value of the soaps. (Does anyone remember Duz detergent? It was one of GL’s original sponsors.) It was a chance to be a voyeur and live vicariously for just a few moments. I mean, which of us did not secretly wish we could be a vixen like Reva? Or a solid matriarch like Bert? Who didn’t want to have a romance with real men like Ed and Mike Bauer? Those fifteen minutes, later expanded to thirty and then sixty, were sometimes the only escape housebound women had. Reality would intrude soon enough, but for a few brief moments, we lived like the characters in our stories. We were all as saucy as Reva and as wise as Bert.

Also unknown to many fans, the show’s title, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a lamp in the study of Reverend Dr. John Ruthledge, a major character when The Guiding Light debuted in 1937, that family and residents could see as a sign for them to find help when needed.” And that was the other value of the soaps. No matter how bad the characters, no matter how sorrowful the tragedies, families pulled together, heroes and heroines stepped up to their duties, and good always triumphed over evil.

And people who watched the shows could also take heart that whatever problems they were facing, like the Bauers and the Reardons, they could rise above the tragedy. Hope was inspired at the same time everyday when we watched and learned how others overcame difficulties too horrifying to contemplate in our own little lives.

I guess that’s the same reason I still like to escape to the distant past with Bat Masterson or Lucas McCain or Ben Cartwright. I love a show where doing the right thing always works, and a happy ending is less than an hour away. The bad guys are always caught and punished, the good folks are always rewarded, and families always survive to live another day.

I know that we all have a need for that kind of optimism now and then, even if it’s fiction, and no matter if it’s a good old fashioned soap or a nostalgic western. Or even a trip into space. Another one of my friends noted that while I like to escape to the past, she instead escapes to the future, via Star Trek episodes, where Kirk and Spock always do the right thing, and evil is always vanquished by good. All in sixty minutes, less commercials!

In the last half of the last century, and especially in the first decade of this one, “stay at home” women were, and are, increasingly rare. And the folks who are at home tend to prefer other programs, even cable news. One by one, soaps have been dying out. Who remembers “The Edge of Night” or Barnabas’ “Dark Shadows”?

The audiences have disappeared and in an especially ironic plot twist, it seems the viewers who remain prefer reality to fiction. So I guess it’s fitting that, according to network news sources, “on October 5, 2009, to replace Guiding Light, CBS will air an hour-long revival of Let’s Make a Deal hosted by Wayne Brady; during the intervening two weeks, the time slot will play host to reruns of The Price Is Right.”
Game shows over soaps? Reality shows over escapist fiction? Say it isn’t so….

The Guiding Light taped its final story on August 11, 2009, and it is scheduled to air its final episode on CBS on September 18, 2009. There wont be many of us left to mourn it’s passing, but every time I’m home at 2:00 p.m. I’ll remember that rotating beacon inviting me to sit a spell and see how others live their lives. Farewell Bert. And Reva. And all the other characters who inspired us. Somehow, a game show just won’t take your place.


Filed under Life Lessons, Media

36 responses to “A Beacon Goes Dark

  1. This is a great nostalgic piece. I have a clear recollection of when I was in Junior High that my sister and I would work like demons to finish our chores so we could watch Dark Shadows in the afternoon.

  2. I remember Dark Shadows, and hadn’t thought of it in years. It’s good to have reminders.

    I was a stay-at-home mom for a very short while, and even then I took in ironing, did babysitting, volunteered with a group that went into homes where ‘patterning’ was done to encourage broken circuits in brains (quite successful!), was an officer of PTA, Girl Scout leader, taught song and game workshops for the Girl Scout council, taught Sunday School and was the adult leader of the youth group at church… After those few short years, I went to work because I was a single mom.

    I have never watched a soap opera regularly — have seen a few episodes but never ‘got into’ one. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and feel saddened at the passing of an era.

    I am always interested in what you write, PrairiePond and always admire the way you hang words together!

  3. prairiepond

    Thanks guys. When I was young, hell, up until the advent of satellite tv, we could only get one and one half channels. We got CBS all the time, and NBC via Great Bend about half the time. The rest? Never. We sort of didnt have any choice if we wanted to watch daytime TV. That’s how I came to watch the soaps.

  4. prairiepond

    Heh. And when I watched the soaps, I loved watching all the beautiful women. It wasnt until I was waaaaaaay older that I realized why!

  5. tosmarttobegop

    Dark shadows is a give-me but the soap I always watched was Days.
    Starting in Elementary school and mom going to work I went to Grandma’s after school.
    She was hooked on Days of our lives and it was what I had to watch while there.

    That continued even after I got to stay home by myself, LOL years after I had stopped watching because of work. I started again and there were the same people and same characters. The story line had not changed a great deal. So I stop watching again.

  6. Trip to the Outhouse

    You definitely are making me nostalgic about the good ol’ days of TV. We got our first TV out on the farm when I was in 5th grade, long after everyone I knew had had one for awhile. (Heck, we finally got a telephone–on a party-line with 8 others–when I was a freshman in high school–around the time of the Kennedy assassination.)

    I still remember that first fuzzy image that came on the screen–a Duncan Hines cherry cake commercial. Dad had pounded a pipe in the hillside next to the house and the antenna was attached to another pipe that fit pretty tightly down into the first. There was a big pipe wrench that laid out by the antenna, and someone had to go out to turn it south for better reception from Great Bend’s Channel 2 (KVGB, is that right?) and west for Channel 7 (KAYS). Sometimes, we’d go out and turn it to the southeast, but it took a long time before the reception from Hutch or Wichita was worth the effort. As far as daytime TV, we didn’t watch the soaps. I do remember one that was on the radio that the folks listened to–“Young Doctor Malone”, which I think moved to TV. As far as other afternoon shows, it was Loretta Young, who’d come twirling out in her full skirts to introduce a different story every day. One that sticks in my mind was about the sinking of the Andrea Doria. And how about “The Thin Man” with Nick, Nora, and Asta?

    Sunday nights were the best and the worst–the best because “Bonanza” was on–the worst because after “What’s My Line?”, it was the dreaded “10 o’clock and school tomorrow.”

    • lilacluvr

      And when the president was giving a speech- nothing else was on television.

      I grew up in Illinois and our television station used that old Indian Chief picture when it was time to go off the air.

      Anyone else know what I am talking about?

    • Yes! But without you reminding me I wouldn’t have remembered. And the sign off with the poem ‘High Flight.’ Ah, the memories!

      • lilacluvr

        We did not get the poem – but we did get a song and I don’t remember what it was.

        Now, that’s going to be bugging me until I remember it – you know that, right?

  7. You and I are close to the same age, Trip, and you’ve brought great memories back with your post.

    I was a city girl so none of the turning of the antennae but I had forgotten about the Loretta Young show and The Thin Man. Remember Casper and The Millionaire? Everyone watched together, there was only one television and everything that aired was for general audiences.

    My Dad decided what would be watched, so at my house there were Friday Night Fights and on Saturday nights The Lawrence Welk show. 😦 Not two of my favorites!

    • lilacluvr

      My paternal grandfather used to love the Lawrence Welk show. Every Saturday night, if the phone rang we knew it was him inviting us over to watch it with him. Us kids used to just hate hearing that phone rang – and there was no such thing as Caller ID in those days!

      My maternal grandfather used to watch wrestling. But the entire time he would sit there and yell at the television that it was all fake. I asked him once if it was all fake then why did he like to watch it – and he just smiled and said ’cause I do’. I think it was his way to vent out all his frustrations from the previous week.

      Like you said, the memories…I can still see both grandfathers in their respective recliners just having a good time.

  8. wicked

    Count me in a soap watcher for a long, long time. I probably watched Guiding Light when I was very small. My mom watched them all. I’d watched General Hospital for so long, I could remember when Jessie and Steve were the stars. When I quit watching it, they were mentioned only rarely. GH is why I’m not a Demi Moore fan. I heard her long before I saw her. We were allowed to listen to radio where I worked, and a radio with tv band was allowed. I taped episodes while I was at work at another job. I went through the whole Luke & Laura saga, the Cassadines, and quit cold turkey after the episode when Frisco and Felicia got married. Unfortunately, my kids started watching when they hit middle school. LOL

    Dark Shadows? Yes!! I even watched it when I went away to college, and my mom forgot I’d taken the little b&w tv and sent me the audio on tape. Now how sad is that?

    Another World was the other soap I watched as faithfully as GH.

    Now? I’m not even curious.

    Kind of sad, though, to see another old soap close shop, PP. 😦

  9. PrairiePond

    OMG, Trip, if you are still reading here, PLEASE help me answer a question that’s been bugging me. I want to write a column about it!

    WHO was the guy who sang gospel music on the Great Bend channel on their noon time show?

    (cue Jeopardy music)

    I think his first name was Elmer? Geez, I cant remember. My aunt, the same one who watched the soaps, LOVED him. He sang all the old gospel songs.

    I hope you can help me. I’ve searched everywhere and asked everyone and no one remembers.

    Thanks for your help.

  10. Trip to the Outhouse

    I’m really really sorry, the only local productions that I remember coming out of Great Bend, besides the news, weather, and sports, were “Magic Top Time”, which was a kids’ after-school show, which had hand puppets performing in the hollow of stage-set tree, and there was also a host–a guy, whom I have little memory of, would introduce cartoons. The host or one of the puppets sometimes played one of those small accordian-like instruments, I think. I’m pretty sure that was the show that had the “Jeopardy” theme music. Yes, I’m pretty sure of that because I can still hear it in my head–ta-dum-dum-dum–dumm-dum-dum-dumm . . .

    There was also a local teen dance show–a la American Bandstand–that came on on Saturday afternoons, which they did out there at the station between Great Bend and Hoisington, and different local kids would go there to be on it. There was also at least one similar one that came out on one of the Wichita channels; one of them might have been called “Dance Party”. I was reminded of them when I saw Ricki Lake in the movie “Hair Spray”.

    I just don’t recall any gospel singer. I’m sure I must have seen that as that was the station we usually watched, and we definitely watched the news, but, unfortunately, there’s been a lot of time, distance, and dead brain cells since those days.

    • HiFiHop — Channel 12, KWCH (the local CBS affiliate). I was a ‘regular.’ Me and Gary Morehead dancing the time away. We were good together, practiced a lot. I saw him and his wife recently and we talked about our young dancing years! So much fun!

      • wicked

        fnord, there was a Morehead who managed the golf course at Clearwater. Is that the same one? If so, I know his wife.

      • Yes! Gary and his wife Denise. Along with Gary’s Mother, Ruby. 🙂

      • I don’t know Denise at all, have only spoken to her a couple of times. She seems pleasant and Gary seems happy. Isn’t it a small world!?

      • wicked

        A very small world!! A mind-blowing morning here, for sure. LOL

        I don’t know Gary, but I met and worked with Denise during the Clearwater Community Theatre time. She was with the Historical Museum. They sponsored us in the beginning. She is VERY nice, and Ruby is, too. Glad you remembered their names. My mind was blank. But if it was like the Elmer Childress thing, it would have eventually surfaced. LOL

  11. Trip to the Outhouse

    One of my family stories related to early TV is about my Uncle George, who was kind of character in his own right.

    Before we had TV on the farm, we would sometimes go into Dorrance to watch TV on my aunt and uncle’s set. My aunt had one more for the “status” of it, and she constantly talked over any show that might be on. Uncle George watched sports, but he didn’t like many other programs.

    On more than one occasion, the rest of would really be into some show, and just about the time when it would be getting to the climax, right when they leave you in suspense and go for a commercial break, he’d get up from his chair, go over to the TV, click it off, and say, “Well, that’s the way they end.”

    And, of course, what could a kid say to his uncle about that?

    It was very disappointing, especially in those days when getting to watch a TV show was almost a luxury, but we have told that story and laughed so many times about him doing that, and, “Well, that’s the way it ends,” is a family saying, especially when someone else has control of the remote and flips the channel just when the show’s getting good.

  12. Trip to the Outhouse

    Yes! Wicked is right! It was Elmer Childress! He played a guitar and the daughters were all dressed alike and sang too. That was probably after Channel 2 was bought by the Wichita station, or whatever, I don’t remember the business side of that.

    • wicked

      Well, it took me almost all day to remember his name, but it finally made its way through the muck in my brain.

    • wicked

      He played piano, too. His wife’s name was June. One of the girls’ names was Pam. I’m almost positive of that. There was a little one, blondish hair and glasses. Gangly, and it always seemed she didn’t like being there. Can’t remember her name though. But Pam was close to my age. I always rolled my eyes at how prim and proper they all were, but they had beautiful voices.

      My brain is actually working!

    • wicked

      Debbie. That was the other girl’s name. Not the little one though, I don’t think. These things just start popping into my head when I’m thing of other things. Very weird.

      All right, PrairiePond, if I have trouble sleeping tonight, it’s your fault. I’ll keep seeing this family in my head, trying to remember the little one’s name.

  13. Trip to the Outhouse

    Well, I know this started out about “Guiding Light”, but since we’re skipping down “Memory Lane”, did anyone else grow up on KOMA, the radio station from Oklahoma City?

    From the moment, I latched onto music through my college days, there weren’t too many nights that I didn’t listen to hours and hours of the hits on KOMA. Even after there was a TV in the house, we’d do our homework at the kitchen table and listen to it on the white Philco radio that sat on the counter. Their theme was “Yours truly, KOMA.” And then their was the kissing tone . . .

    One of the reasons that I guess so many listened to it was its great music format, while the local stations, trying to fit all kinds of tastes, seemed to have a variety of programming . Also in those days when AM radio was king, KOMA had one of the strongest signals, especially at night.

    When I got a transistor radio, I loved to take it to bed and play with the dial, trying to pick up stations from as far away as I could. Of course, what stations you could get depended a lot on the weather. One of the ones I remember was XELO from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, a station that I think still exists. At that time, they broadcast in English, but they’d sometimes give the call letters in Spanish, which made the station seem further away and more exotic. I’d always tune back to KOMA, though, and would often wake up with it still going, but with much weaker reception than it had at night.

    When you (anyway the people I grew up with) were old to drive and spent time “dragging main”, for sure that was the station playing on the car radio. Yep, dragging main, KOMA, and 3.2 Coors beer (bought for you by somebody), all blended together pretty nicely.

    I still try to find KOMA when I drive through OKC on my way to and from Kansas. Not so many years ago, they had a music format not too different than that of when I was growing up, but it seems like the last few times it hasn’t been the same.

    • wicked

      I listened to KLIF in Dallas a few times, very late at night. I can even remember the little call song. KLIF 1190. It was wild the night before the Cotton Bowl. At least I think it was the Cotton Bowl. 🙂 Some things are just never forgotten, especially the things you don’t need. LOL

      • jammer5

        We had some pirate radio stations when I was a kid. Some from over Tijuana way. Rock and Roll was frowned upon back then, and the only way to hear it was via pirate radio. When the major stations finally started playing rock, it turned into a payola nightmare. Major headlines.

    • Trip,

      I was a KOMA listener and your memories of taking your transistor radio to bed mirror mine! Except, I stuck with KOMA, wasn’t ever adventurous enough to seek far-away radio stations. It was a strong night-time signal! Sometimes when memories come back (like today with all of you helping!), I realize I’ve probably always been an old woman. And, that’s fine, I’m truly comfortable in my own skin, just never young.

  14. Trip to the Outhouse

    Here’s a link to a pic of Elmer Childress, looks like the 80s though: http://www.channel3000.com/2005/0215/4199593_200X150.jpg

    Dunno if that will jog any memories.

  15. PrairiePond


    Elmer Childress. It’s been buggin me. I want to write about the loss of the “noon whistle” and how people actually took a lunch break instead of running errands and grabbing a Snickers.

    Thanks so much y’all.

    And yeah, I slept with the transistor and KOMA. We cruised Main with KOMA. Daytime radio out here was slim pickin’s. I remember sitting on the wheat truck hood in the cool of the evening during harvest, watching the sun set and the combines roll. I had to listen to Royals games until KOMA came in about dark.

    Sigh. Those were the days.

  16. PrairiePond

    “There was also a local teen dance show–a la American Bandstand–that came on on Saturday afternoons, which they did out there at the station between Great Bend and Hoisington, and different local kids would go there to be on it. There was also at least one similar one that came out on one of the Wichita channels; one of them might have been called “Dance Party”.

    Wow, how funny you should mention that. I write a “50 year news” thingy for the paper where I go through the 1959 papers and print cute or nostolgic or newsworthy items.

    I just printed one where there was a notice that it would be “WaKeeney Day” at Dance Party in Great Bend on Saturday. Those boys and girls wishing to attend had to sign up with the two mothers organizing and driving. The next week, they reported how much fun it was being on TV and how well behaved the teenagers were. In fact, the news item said “a good time was had by all”.

    heheh. AHAHAHAHAHAH. That was all over by the time I was a teen, but as a kid, I remember sitting in front of the tube on Saturday afternoons while my Mom rolled my hair. I imagined I was one of those cool teens on TV.

    Hee hee hee. Cruising Main in my ’69 Camaro with 3.2 beer and KOMA. Yep. Classic. And all the guys had a pillow on the console where their girlfriends could sit. I remember being pissed because I couldnt do that….. Baby dyke that I was….

    And, like ZZ Top said, “I heard it on the X”. Those outlaw stations like THE X are where Wolfman Jack and some other DJ’s really shined. People in Texas remember THE X like we do KOMA. I couldnt get it very often, but it was too cool for school when it did come in!

  17. 6176746f6c6c65

    The X: XERF, which broadcast from Mexico, cannot recall the name of the town, but it was across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Wolfman Jack; that brings back a lot of memories…

  18. 6176746f6c6c65

    I suspect it was a whole lot easier to get “the X” in Wellington than it was up around WaKeeney, thus the memories. Heck, even my dad got into it; Saturday nights, after the Opry on WSM, Nashville, was over, he’d fiddle with the radio so he could get the Wolfman.