Missing days of cereal serials
It was 1945. It was just about that time at Garfield Elementary on Montclair Street. I put my bicycle clip on my pant leg. Five more minutes. I wore my webbing traffic belt with its silver AAA badge. My homeroom teacher called us traffic boys to the door and dismissed us five minutes early so that we could get to our posts ahead of the other kids.
I biked to my post at the corner of Genesee and Woodland just ahead of the first bicyclers – the walkers would be straggling along behind them. I was eager to get home. One of my radio serial heroes, “Hop Harrigan,” was in an out-of-control power dive in a crippled plane at the end of yesterday’s 15-minute program, and I was very anxious to see if he and his sidekick, Tank Tinker, would continue that dive to their deaths or miraculously pull out at the very last second.
As you might expect, when I finally made it home to hurriedly turn on the radio – it had to warm up -?to find out our heroes’ fate, Hop and his buddy pulled out just in time, just skimming the treetops. Of course, they made it! Grape Nuts would lose a really good moneymaker in their sponsorship of CX4 (Hop) if his death would end the series.
Ahh! What a reverie it was to get home after a tough day at school! Our big console radio with its Victrola record player was my refuge. I would open the speaker doors, lie on the floor between those opened doors, and listen there in my own little world to all the 15-minute adventure serials.
Next was “Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy,” sponsored by Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions. I wondered if Jack Armstrong appreciated how many bowls of Wheaties I had eaten just to get enough Wheaties box tops to order that card model Japanese Zero.
As the late afternoon wore on, “Terry and the Pirates,” sponsored by Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice (Shot from Guns) had their adventures in wartime China. Dick Tracy followed. Tootsie VM, their sponsor, promised me an authentic bazooka for a few labels off their product and a dime.
I had visions of shooting a rocket from that bazooka and destroying an enemy tank. What I received were two cardboard tubes with an overall diameter of about three quarters of an inch and about one foot long, one within the other. You blew in one end, and the smaller tube was propelled out of the bigger tube for a distance of about eight feet if you blew really hard. Bummer!
“Captain Midnight” followed, sponsored by Ovaltine. They offered a decoder ring. I didn’t fall for that one, but I tried to decipher the code given at the end of the program without its benefit. I never did decipher the secret message, but other kids told me that the messages were kind of silly.
Finally, “Tom Mix,” a cowboy hero, wrapped up the serial presentations for the early evening just before supper. He was sponsored by Hot (cold months) and Shredded (warm months) Ralston. I was to take a tip from Tom, to go and tell my mom, that Shredded Ralston can’t be beat. I didn’t tell her.
Tom Mix did offer us a siren ring, which I ordered. It could be used to call for help if a tree fell on you, or maybe even something worse. It was sort of an early 911. The ring had a little fan-like rotor inside an enclosure on the top of the ring that you blew into. You had to take the ring off to make it work. It most likely would have worked quite well in an emergency if your potential rescuer was within earshot of the siren – about 12 feet.
I miss those old 15-minute weekday cereal serials in spite of some of the box top disappointments. I was a bit more disappointed when I saw photos of my heroes standing in front of their microphones reading the scripts for their daily programs. Some of my heroes had a bit of a paunch.
Maybe this was a way of telling us kids that reality is quite different from what we imagine. It was a good preparation for life.
Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org