The Car Radio (1950s-60s)

The Car Radio 

On the car ride South down New York’s Bronx River Parkway to my cousin Skippy’s house in Scarsdale, my mother always played the radio.

Her favorite show was William B. Williams on WNEW in the “Make Believe Ballroom” a broadcast that featured several hours of songs by artists such as the Mills Brothers, Doris Day, Patty Paige, The McGuire Sisters and The Lennon Sisters.

My mother was a great vocalist who also had the ability to perfectly harmonize. Riding along while listening to her sing created an isolated pocket in time as though we were in an insulated cocoon or traveling in a space capsule to a distant planet; just the music and the black void.

The songs of this era are indelibly imprinted in my brain like a musical tattoo and although they did not have any particular deep meaning to me then, I now find them to be beautifully nostalgic. It was the peaceful time after World War II when the Big Band era was coming to an end, stars like Sinatra reigned, and was just before the chaotic musical renaissance of Rock and Roll.

The songs spoke to America’s innocent hope for peaceful post war rejuvenation and their rhythms paced a country that was in the middle of both a great economic recovery along with a bountiful baby boom. It was a time when mothers did not have to hold a second job because a father’s salary alone could support a family and was an era when gender rolls were at a classical and traditional peak: Just mothers and fathers; husbands and housewives; Molly and me… and baby makes three.

The newly emerging American middle class was as yet non-stratified and most families seemed to be satisfied if they simply achieved the goal of buying a small house in the suburbs. No one was trying to keep up with or to surpass the Joneses.

Taking these car rides were some of the few times that my mother seemed to be honestly happy and somewhat carefree. She was simply looking forward to seeing her friend, Skippy’s mother Margaret, with their common bond being two young housewives who were both sharing the awesome responsibility of having to raise very young children.

Optimism prevailed. The future was bright for everyone.

The green grass and fleshed out Maple trees along the Bronx River rolled past the car window. The radio played. And Doris Day sang.

When I was just a little girl,

I asked my mother,

”What will I be?

Will I be pretty?

Will I be rich?”

Here’s what she said to me:

“Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

What will be, will be.”

(Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans)


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