“Me being Uncle Ray, very smart indeed.”

 So Bob Elliott, currently one-half of the reason I have a deal to provide liner notes, turned 87 the other day; his partner would’ve turned 88 a day or so before that. Asked in an interview awhile back what getting older felt like, Bob said: "It feels like getting older." The interviewer characterized this as a ‘wry’ response, and, well, good for the interviewer.

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It should come as no surprise that television programming is derivative; the whole thing was in the first place lifted from the radio. Thus you had your radio dramas, your mysteries, soap operas, sitcoms, talk shows (then usually called ‘women’s programs’), news & sports… and, of course, children’s shows. (That it’s become progressively harder, as years have passed, to tell the programs intended for kids from the ones for adults is a charming side-effect, but not really germane to the issue at hand.)

The children’s genre Bob & Ray’s listeners would’ve been most familiar with was the Random Station Employee The Programmers Dubbed ‘Uncle’ and Then Had Read Stories and Such. The best-loved host of this kind was ‘Uncle Don’ Carney, from New York’s WOR, whose show had just concluded a 19-year run in 1947. He it was who initiated the ‘go look in the closet, Jimmy, and you’ll find a surprise from Mommy!’ schtick. (He also initiated the ‘That oughta hold the little bastards!’ urban legend, although not by actually saying anything of the kind. See link.)

This all might explain why ‘Uncle Ray’ Goulding had a pronounced Brooklyn accent, along with a distinctly surreal frame of mind. In typically gentle fashion, Bob & Ray’s satire of a kiddy host didn’t hate children; he was just entirely bemused by the requirements of entertaining them. A typical attempt, circa about 1948, is below.

Bob: It’s time for another Bob & Ray feature, ‘Uncle Ray Talks to the Kiddies About Science.’ And I think today’s subject will be more interesting than any we have covered to date.

Uncle Ray: It’s about science.

Bob: Yes, science. So go right ahead.

[Generic ‘Babes in the Woods’-type music up and over:]

Uncle Ray: Okay kids, first of all I’m gonna answer some questions that you’ve all sent in to me to have answered.

Junior (Bob, squeeky-voiced): Can I have another cigar, Unca Ray, please, before you start?

Uncle Ray: Go right ahead. Just don’t have too many before dinner.

All right now, Junior, you read me the questions and I’ll answer them as best I can. Me being Uncle Ray, very smart indeed.

Junior: Okay. Unca Ray?

Uncle Ray: Yeah?

Junior: What makes a choo-choo train choo?

Uncle Ray: Well, ah, ‘choo-choo train’ is not the real name, kids, it’s a name that kids give to trains. They’re trains, really, and they get the name ‘choo-choo’ because the train goes ‘choo-choo, choo-choo’, and noises like that, and that’s how it got it’s name. But it ain’t really, and it don’t do no chewing that I know of.

Junior: Thank you, Unca Ray.

Uncle Ray: Okay.

Junior: What about Henry Bessemer, though?

Uncle Ray: Yes. He invented, boys and girls, the furnace that we now use to melt, ah, steel ingots. And, ah… them little steel ingots, you know, we melt ’em down and make ’em into little things, all around your house.

Junior: I thought she was in the movies, Unca Ray.

Uncle Ray: Who?

Junior: Ingot Bergman.

Uncle Ray (chuckling): That isn’t right, now, Junior, heh heh. Touch-ay, sir.

Next question please, Junior?

Junior: Um, I had a question all ready here, but I don’t know whether it’s apropos or not. Maybe it’s just inconsequential, Unca Ray. 

Uncle Ray (not *quite* through clenched teeth): Well go ahead and ask it, Junior, I’ll decide.

Junior: At any rate, it’s circumstantial, Unca Ray.

Uncle Ray: All right! Now, will you [smack!] please ask the question, Junior? Please? Hmmm?

Junior: Do the steel furnaces go ‘choo-choo’?

Uncle Ray: No they don’t, no. [turns away] Steel furnaces don’t do any chewing…

Junior: Could you stay on mic, Unca Ray, please?

Uncle Ray (reassuming dignity): Yes. No, they don’t do any choo-chewing at all. Now, any other little science…

Junior: Can I have another chew-chew of that tobacco? 

Uncle Ray (properly reproving): Now, please, Junior.

Junior: I finished my cigar, though…

Uncle Ray: I promised your mother that I wouldn’t give you any more tobacco to chew. Now, do you have any other little questions to ask? Like, what is a trolley car?

Junior: What is a trolley car?

Uncle Ray: I don’t know the answer to that one. I’ll  look it up and try to have that answer tomorrow.

Well, goodnight, and keep smart! Remember kids, bold brilliance pays off in this world.

Junior: And keep your eyes open, ’cause the grownups’ll slap ya around sometimes.

Uncle Ray (suddenly a bit more serious): I’d like to talk to you about that: Protecting yourself from adult monsters. Ah… kick ’em right in the shins, at the first sign they’re mad atcha…

Junior: I have a question here, Unca Ray…

Uncle Ray: …or throw a heavy rock, or something quite substantial. Anything that’ll cause a bruise.

Junior: …My teacher at school says I should not throw heavy rocks at her. What do you suggest? Signed, Perplexed.

Uncle Ray: Well, she’s probably right there. I wouldn’t throw *heavy* rocks.

Junior: She is right there. [wolf-whistle]

And another question, should I take a bean-blower to school?


Uncle Ray: Sure. Absolutely. Any kid who doesn’t take a bean-blower to school ain’t worth nothin’. 

Junior (distinctly dubious): Okay…

Uncle Ray (firmly): He ain’t worth nothing. Good-night, Junie. 

Bob: I believe we’ve covered the children’s forum for this afternoon…

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‘Adult monsters’? Now there’s a weirdly prescient phrase…

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