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Like many people in the 50+ age group, I have been hearing and reading the same socio-politcal arguments my whole life.

Many of these have to do with the same preoccupations — sex, drugs and war — that my forebears saw or read in the 1960s.  One show in particular, Joe Pyne, brought these to the fore.  If you enjoy shocking shows — today, really limited to radio in the US — you have the late Mr Pyne to thank. 

My late maternal grandfather was a quiet fan of his show.  Although solidly middle class, he tuned in late Saturday nights for Joe, his guests and the audience.  A warm summer breeze would blow in when my cousins and I spent time at my grandparents’ summer cottage.  We kids would be tucked up in bed, although the television was on and Grandma and Mom would be in the sitting room with Grandpa.

‘What’s on now?’

‘Joe Pyne,’ Grandpa would answer in a matter-of-fact way as if to say, ‘Don’t even think about changing channels.’

My mom would complain of a stomach upset, and Grandma would dash off to say her nightly Rosary. (Once she even suggested that Grandpa go to Confession for watching the show.) My cousin would whisper to me, ‘Joe Pyne!  The forbidden show.  Shh — let’s listen.’

No one mentioned Joe Pyne in polite company, yet it was one of Grandpa’s favourites.  Grandma allowed him to mention it only when he was with his male friends.  Among the people I knew, it was considered unseemly for ladies to enjoy the show, although his youngest daughter — my aunt — did.  I think that was because she worked in a largely male industry, even though she held an office job for many years.  My mom would ask her ‘baby’ sister, ‘How can you watch that?’  Yes, you will see a 50-50 male-female split in the audience, but no one in polite company recognised that.

That said, there is no blue language here.  Everything is above board.

Joe Pyne really was a combination of Rush Limbaugh, Art Bell (‘Coast to Coast’ radio show), Michael Savage and others — mostly on radio now — who tell the truth or entertain the outrageous in their own special way.  In a way, he was a precursor, although less crudely, to the now-defunct Weekly World News‘s columnist Ed Anger.   Yet, Pyne had his finger on the pulse.  Although few of his shows survive in their entirety, perhaps because they were filmed in Kinescope, they foretold what was coming down the pike. 

Pyne served with the US Marines in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War.  He married and had a family.  He promoted American values and common sense.  He was probably also a practicing Christian, judging by some of his interviews, although we don’t know for certain.  He could be patient with those whom he wished to educate and spiky with those whom he thought should know better.  Joe was in Los Angeles when his last four years of television shows aired.  He died in 1970 at the age of 44. 

You can say what you like about Pyne’s politics.  But, one charge you can’t level against him is racism.  He fully supported civil rights and gave up-and-coming actors like Godfrey Cambridge a voice and a friendly discussion before anyone else had them as guests on their chat shows.  Pyne probably did more to make them better known in white households than any other chat show host.  In an editorial in Delaware Online, John H Taylor recalls Pyne’s radio days:

We were faithful Pyne fans. I remember him mixing it up on the air with [white supremacist Bryan] Bowles … Pyne was a supporter of integration and a skilled and often abusive questioner. Bowles’s bellicose, bigoted rhetoric was met head on by Pyne’s tenacity. My memory is Pyne won that debate.

I’m posting a few of the best surviving Joe Pyne clips to illustrate the concept of ‘true then, truer now’.  Come watch with me.  Oh, and please don’t be offended.  Smoking on television was de rigueur at the time.

We begin with Joe’s ‘beef box’ or ‘the dock’, where members of the audience could sound off.  An aging leftist calls Joe a liar using the tactics we recognise today.  Joe has the final word:

Joe interviews Helen Gurley Brown, founder of Cosmopolitan, who discusses sex and the single girl — very much like today’s feature pages:

He interviews transsexual Christine Jorgensen, exploring facts:

An LSD user is in the box — Joe shows remarkable patience:

Joe criticises the then Georgia Governor Lester Maddox over segregation and chain gangs — a must-see:

A young man of means, thought to be the S&H Green Stamps heir, rants about animal rights:

Older middle-aged people have been hearing about all of these issues since childhood.  There’s nothing new under the sun.  We saw the signposts for today’s world way back then.

For more on Joe Pyne, read:

TV Party – Joe Pyne Show 

Tomorrow: Analysing leftist politics with Joe Pyne

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