Let's get New Year's Eve back - on real-time radio

By , Dick Barrett, a retired journalist, loved the Big Band era.

From around the country reports are coming in that the hard rock era on the radio appears to be slippng and that many stations are changing over to either country music or the tunes of the 1930s and '40s which so many Americans have danced and romanced to. A good example is radio station KLIV in San Jose, which made the change from Top 40 to Glenn Miller, et. al., last May with no advance word. The general manager of the station reports it has never received as much favorable mail as it has since then. And it is not just that Johnny the rock fan is illiterate.

In the San Francisco Bay area KSAN and KYUU have also dropped rock in favor of country in the former case and soft rock-romantic in the latter.

The trend is said to be the result of changing demographics. In a word, the population is aging. The radio stations, unlike the slumping recording industry, are moving now toward an older audience, one with the money to buy its advertisers' products.

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As an old romantic who survived the Depression on the vicarious pleasures to be had from listening to the Big Bands, I hope - without much justification perhaps - that the television moguls will learn something from the radio people and give us our good old New Year's Eves back.

Back during the 1930s and even for a time after the war, before television came along, radio helped us, particularly on the West Coast, to feel we were part of a national community watching a tough old year depart and a hopeful new one arrive. It bound us all together in a countrywide dance party that moved westward with the turning of the earth. The last vestige of that lovely custom was brought to us in recent times on television by the late Ben Grauer and Guy Lombardo, but on TV the West Coast saw them three hours after the fact. Radio brought them to us in ''real time,'' as the space scientists call it.

In the Pacific Time Zone, we could tune in at 8 p.m. and hear the dance music coming from the Waldorf, along with the sounds of the people talking, the clink of silverware and dishes, and, even if we didn't have much money in the pocket or the bank, we could imagine we were taking part in something special. Then just before 9 o'clock we'd be with Grauer, overlooking Times Square and waiting for the ball to drop at the Times Building to mark the arrival of the new year. Grauer would get excited, the crowd would roar as the ball fell and Lombardo's band came in with ''Auld Lang Syne.'' We knew that the eastern third of the continent had taken the new year aboard while we remained for another three hours in the old one. We had a strong sense of the majestic earth turning.

At 10 o'clock we would all be in Chicago - the Edgewater Beach Hotel or the Black Hawk Restaurant - listening to more romantic dance music and the sounds of people celebrating as time flooded a new year over them. After that the scene shifted to the mile-high city of Denver, as the radio announcer called it, and now the infant year was striding purposefully through the Rockies, heading for the Pacific shore, while out in the territory of Hawaii night had just fallen over Waikiki.

Along about 11:30 the scene shifted to the Coconut Grove or the Biltmore Bowl in Los Angeles for the music of Gus Arnheim and his orchestra, or perhaps to the Mural Room or Peacock Court in San Francisco for Griff Williams or the Lofner-Harris orchestra ''and the tenor voice of Carl Ravazza.'' It was pretty glamorous, especially the thought that we likely were with some movie stars at the Biltmore.

The screen has done a great job of bringing us the Rose Parade in living color, along with hours upon hours of football, but it never, never gave us New Year's Eve the way radio did.

Well, grant that the Big Band era was substantially over by the time the rock generation and TV came along in 1950. Grant that the Paul Whitemans, the Bix Beiderbeckes, the Bing Crosbys and many of the other greats are no longer among us in the flesh. We still have Lawrence Welk, Freddie Martin, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Ray Anthony, and some of the others around, and there must be some younger ones coming along who can read music and play those wonderful arrangements we dreamed over during hard times.

And somewhere out there in the television industry and business at large, there must be some executives with the creativity to put together and sponsor a real-time party to bring us all together for an evening while the old year says goodbye and we look hopefully to supply-side economics for a better 1982

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