Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Breakfast with the Johnsons

Reality TV has been an exploding genre since that pasty and trite "Real World" sham graces the cablevision universe with it's debut on MTV in 1992. Twenty seasons later a hundred similarly conceived TV programs have come and gone, and nobody has yet to refer to where reality programming began.

Before reality television there was reality radio. Reality radio, began it's first contrived motions in 1952 on WBBM-AM. It was a half-hour radio show hosted by Cliff Johnson from the kitchen of his Oak Park home. It ran for 10 years.

The show was basically arranged around a breakfast table in the Johnson home. The characters be they real or otherwise were: breadwinner Mr. Johnson, homemaker /wife, Luella, and four daughters, ages 2 to 10: Linda, Pamela, and Vicki. The family pet was a parakeet named Olaf. It died and was mourned on-air. When Mrs. Johnson became pregnant with Cliff Jr. the cast expanded. Read more here.

Girls chatted about school and boys boys, were prominent characters. It mirrored real life in that era milkman and mail man included.

At 7:30 in the morning, Monday through Friday. The microphones were installed all over the Johnson home. Children would wandered in, and the milkman would come in. They talked about each other, Chicago, and the world. It was like Oak Park, IL had its own radio show.

Clifford Johnson was born on a dairy farm in Beresford, SD. He married Luella in 1938. they relocated to Lincoln and it was there that he got a job with the Central States Network. his good reputation there got him a gig at KOIL in Omaha. That high profile gig led him to WBBM in Chicago in 1941.

First he was was host of "Meet the Missus", then "Shopping with the Missus", and "Listen to Cliff". His eponymous show caught the notice of Philip K. Wrigley, who brought him on board at KNX. There he filled in for Jack Bailey during his show "Queen for a Day" and once for Art Linkletter and his segment "Kids Say the Darnedest Things." It was that show that supposedly inspired Cliff to dream up "Breakfast with the Johnsons."

After 10 great years at the breakfast table, Cliff moved on. He became host of "Sounds of Europe." He received the Dwight Eisenhower Award for his news work there. He was managing editor from 1964 to 1968 at 1390 WNUS-AM. Then at the age of 77 he went back to college earned a degree in theology and one on communications. he spent the remainder of his life volunteering and doing community work. In 1993 the Illinois state assembly honored him with a resolution deciding his life's accomplishments.