June 8, 2014

Keeping it clean

Here’s a question to fire up the synapses. Why do they call certain shows on television “soaps?”

That’s pretty easy. It’s short for “soap operas.” Those of us who were weaned on radio in the mid-20th century will have the answer on the tips of our tongues.

In the 1920s, those daytime radio programs we called “serials” were mostly sponsored by the leading soap companies. Their musical jingles became as ingrained in our minds as the “Hit Parade” top 10 songs.

As you read this, I’ll bet you can hum a few as readily as I can. How about “Rinso White”? I thought that might get you started.

Even though I was never a fan of the “soaps” that came out of the radio on top of our refrigerator, the jingles were ubiquitous and so darn clever that they stuck with us and still rattle around inside our heads after all this time.

Poor Kaye. We sat sipping coffee a few days ago and I began to pick her brain about what wash day was like for her back when. It was like prying open a long-shut memory chest. Little by little, we exchanged details of things we had packed away.

Even the “manly” radio programs were sponsored by soap companies. Among my favorite jingles was the one I heard each week on “The FBI in Peace and War.” Can you sing it with me? “L-A-V-A, L-A-V-A.” Just two musical notes, but clever enough to remain with us. Powerful enough to convince our mothers that those ugly gray, gritty bars of soap could actually get our grimy hands clean.

I remember a volcano on the box. That was because the soap contained pumice and that was said to be the cleaning agent. I guess it worked. I even remember radio contests, timing dirty-handed people scrubbing with LAVA and with another leading brand. Hey, that’s what imagination is all about. We could picture the winner, showing off his clean fingernails while the loser snuck away with dirt still in his knuckle creases.

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