Entertainment in Manchester circa the 1940s: Reflecting on 90 years of life with my pepere, Ed Neveu

On music, television, and how life has changed.

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My pepere, Ed Neveu, (back) enjoying a motorcycle ride with his son, Richard in October, 2017.

Author’s Note: We are sad to inform our readers that Ed Neveu passed away on the morning of June 30, 2020, peacefully in his sleep at Bel-Air Nursing Home and Rehab Center in Goffstown. Ed was loved dearly by his six children, many grandchildren, friends and family. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

MANCHESTER, NH – I have always been close with my grandparents. As young kids, my sister and I would spend countless hours on the weekends playing board games, golf, tennis and taking long walks through the streets and trails of their hometown: Goffstown, NH. Many members of the family called them “memere” and “pepere,” the French-Canadian word for “grandma” and “grandpa” that is commonly heard in the Manchester area. 

Each of them were a guiding light in our lives and remain so to this day. We lost my memere to pancreatic cancer during the summer of 2013; one of the hardest summers of our lives. My pepere is still with us and celebrated his 90th birthday last week. He has always been a traditionalist at heart; something of a stereotypical Catholic French-Canadian man in politics, in practice, and in life. Looking back at the last 90 years, the sounds and sights of the city of Manchester have changed exponentially. Economically and politically, the city has worn many hats over the years.

Lorraine Lillian (Smith) and Edmond Neveu on their wedding day in 1949.

“When the pendulum on a clock swings too far one way, it is bound to swing almost equally the other way,” he once said.

In more recent years, the city has seen the rise of the tech boom in the Millyard with companies like Autodesk, Dyn, Pillpack, DEKA and SNHU. Bicycles can be rented by the hour near Elm Street and paid for/unlocked via an app. Our favorite restaurant foods can be ordered for delivery with services like DoorDash and Grubhub. A vastly different world from Manchester’s first experiences with radio, television and movies in the early 1900s. I chose to sit down with my grandfather for a detailed account of the world of film, entertainment and communications in Manchester when he was a young boy.

Ed Neveu’s Senior Class Picture, Goffstown High School Class of 1948.

Edmond “Ed” Neveu was born on June 22, 1930, in  Manchester, to a Franco-American family. In 1949, he married Lorraine Lillian Smith, his high school sweetheart, and remained married for 64 years until her passing in 2013. Ed was a builder and contractor for the town of Goffstown for the vast majority of his life and enjoyed skiing in Western Canada, the French Riviera and Monaco in his youth. 

Sitting across the same wooden coffee table that has existed in his house for several decades,  I readied my recorder knowing just how precious these words will mean to me as I grow older and my grandfather becomes another year closer to a century. I started with asking him about his experiences with music as he is always fascinated with the fact that our iPhones act more like a speaker than a true phone.

AB: I know how you feel about some of today’s musical artists. What type of music did you listen to growing up?

EN: Well, the music of the 1940s mainly consisted of what we called “big bands”. At that time I was around your age and swing music was still in fashion up until about the 1950s. But I have to say, my favorite of them all was Gene Krupa. He was a band leader and one hell of a drummer.

AB: How did you prefer to listen to music?

EN: Really, we only had means by using the radio. But honestly, I don’t think people listened to music as much as people today. My generation was very busy with other matters and we were just coming out of the war. I don’t think that we liked it any less, but we didn’t put as much emphasis and worship on musicians the way they do today. We had our records but our parents mostly owned those. My friends and I didn’t have money available to buy records. Just the radio. Radios weren’t very good though unless you had money to buy the latest. We mostly listened at work if our bosses allowed it to be on.

AB: How did you purchase music? Today most music is purchased digitally, as you know.

EN: Most people I know didn’t have excess money to buy music. We listened purely on the radio from what I recall. Though for those who did purchase music, it was always a record up through the 1970s.

AB: What did it cost to purchase a record when you were young?

EN: I can’t remember for sure, but it must have been close to $0.50 or $0.75 in the very early 40s at least. The cost remained pretty low until we got to the 1970s and 80s.

AB: Where there any genres of music or musical artists you weren’t allowed to listen to? Why?

EN: We really were not restricted by our parents because most music was considered clean at that time. It was not graphic. There were no curse words. It was truly the “all-American” type music that people remember back then [on the radio]. We had mostly western music back then. It was a lot of the big band music that I mentioned, like with Gene Krupa. 

We momentarily stopped the interview and I asked my pepere if he wanted me to play a video of Gene Krupa for him on my phone. I was able to quickly find a top video on Youtube titled “Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich Famous Drum Battle.” Making the camera widescreen, I propped my phone near his rocking chair for him to enjoy the rapid-fire drum beats being played with a swing band in the background. Both Gene and Rich wear wearing heavy suits and were visibly straining, wiping the sweat from their brows between breaks in the music. I could tell my pepere was really getting into the music again as he asked me:

 “Can we put this on the TV screen and make it bigger?” I shot a glance at the same Visio TV set he’s had since 2004. 

“Sadly, we can’t. You don’t have a smart TV.”

“My TV isn’t smart enough?” 

Pepere shot a glance with his last quip, clearly knowing his TV was out of date. I was eager to turn the attention of our interview toward the topic of radio. Literature and films that concern themselves with the history of “Amerca’s Golden Age” often refer to the vast radio culture that existed in most American homes prior to the widespread access of television. Oddly enough, pepere didn’t have too many collective memories of radio – or at least very fond ones.

AB: What do you remember about your experiences with radio?

EN: I remember it was very, very “staticky.” Everything was AM during those days. I don’t remember exactly when FM radio came to be but it certainly wasn’t a common feature when I was a kid.  Some were tall and acted more like a piece of furniture. The speaker was on the bottom and the dials were on the top. It took up a huge corner of our rooms and deciding the placement was like picking where you wanted your entertainment center to go. Most of them were console and produced a lot of static. People of means bought the best of radios and you knew who had money in the neighborhood when you saw what type of radio they had – if any at all. We had just one radio in my house growing up, but it was all we needed. 

Manchesteter, NH in 1936, (Photo from Library of Congress)

Expecting my pepere to be more knowledgeable on the subject of radios, I was pleasantly surprised when he wanted to shift gears to talking about the days of early television in America.

AB: What was it like when TV became available?

EN: Television became available bit by bit at a time. The first time I saw TV, I was standing in front of a storefront looking in through the glass. A radio company had started to stock a few TVs with a big magnifying glasses in the front. In the beginning some were only 6 inches wide. At the time I was about 16, then I knew the owner and was invited inside to watch TV. We decided to watch the boxing fights (they were popular at the time). And then I met your memere and got married in 1949. By then, TV’s were out and becoming common but most people bought 12 inch black and white TV sets. We bought a 16 inch. It was just great to have our own and we felt like we had the best and biggest and our friends told us that we would ruin our eyes.

AB: Where did you watch your first TV programs and what was the experience like?

EN: As I said, the first TV program I watched was on Allen street in a storefront in Pinardville. It was a boxing match and there were very, very few TV’s in the city of Manchester at the time. They were in store windows more as a demonstration of how they worked.  This was around the time of 1946 or 1947. 

AB: Do you remember how much your family’s first TV cost?

EN: I left home in 1949 and they might have gotten one around that time, but I bought my first TV with your memere. I honestly can’t recall the cost, but in comparison to other goods at the time they were very expensive because they were new and unheard of. They were really considered a luxury item at that time. Just like when the flat screen TV came out. Quite possibly a couple hundred bucks even for black and white. A couple hundred bucks in 1949 was a lot to spend on a non-essential item.

AB:What was the reception like?

EN: In general, the reception on the TV was fair. We all had all antenna’s on the outside. Reception depended on the location where you lived and where the antenna was placed. The reception was fair at best. If you lived in major cities we all had antennas on the outside, some people called them “rabbit ears” and could get the most channels with the best reception. 

AB: What was a typical family viewing session like?

EN: For starters, I do think that we were more family oriented back then. What I mean by that is not just the immediate family but including the uncles and aunts too that we used to visit a lot more. We used to do things around town and visit more people because weren’t as plugged in electronically. Cars were just beginning to be affordable and available in the late 40s. we used to eat and have meals together amongst everyone, so we didn’t really make plans to all get together and watch TV as odd as that sounds. Even for people who first bought TV, we never had these “binge watching parties” that you talk about. We would get together to watch certain new programs but we even considered commercials to be a novelty. We didn’t have as many but they were funnier and were considered part of the experience rather than a pain-in-the-butt interruption. 

AB: How did the introduction of television change home life?

EN: TV changed a lot in our lives and at a very rapid pace. When TVs started to hit the market, things felt entertaining but now they seem just too commercial. Still, It’s informative even now at times. But often times now its informative in a negative way and people put out the wrong types of messages. We went from being a very active family who got together with all the extended family members. Over time we started doing this less and the new inventions paired with having more access to TV and cars began to separate us. We stopped getting together with the extended families as much and began to just do things at home with the immediate family, such as watching TV after dinner. I think this started to become an American norm.

AB: Moving into the 1950s, How did your television experiences in that decade compare with your experiences now?

EN: It was more satisfying then, simply because it was new, for one thing. Television remained a novelty longer than it probably would have if introduced to society today, for example. We will always pay more attention to anything new. It seems like the programming was more wholesome and family-oriented and now-a-days it just isn’t.  You can probably tell that a lot of us older folks see newer stuff as junk compared to what we used to watch. Even though we had fewer channels, a lot of us felt that we got more out of the fewer channels we had than the 800 channels we have now. The commercials kept us entertained too and now everything seems to aim to be controversial. And reality TV is something we didn’t have or the award shows, for example. And controversies seem to pop up everywhere with these types of things. TV wasn’t considered controversial in the 1950s in most cases.

AB: What were your first movie-going experiences like and how are they different from today?

EN: Of course we had the westerns. In the old westerns the good guy always wins. I first saw movies when I was very young. The Wizard of Oz which was in technicolor was really something! Oh boy was that a well done, beautiful movie and a real classic. And it’s still being watched today. Another one of my first movies was Gone with the Wind and that was a beautiful movie. Even when Clark Gable said “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” everyone talked about it for years. I saw a documentary called Hitler’s Children around 1944 when I was 14. I saw it during the war and it was an informative documentary to keep people at home in the loop about how the Germans were experimenting to create “the super race”. I was very young seeing my first movies so naturally I might have been 9 years old. My very first may have even been a Shirley Temple movie and I was amazed to see a photograph with talking on the big screen. 

AB: Did you have any other films that you considered your favorites when growing up and why?

EN: The Wizard of Oz was something that was part of my “growing up years”. It didn’t influence me but I loved seeing the beautiful women in gowns all dressed up in these new films.  Gone with the Wind was another one I loved.  Cowboy movies were the popular genre of the time. Of course we eventually got Batman and Superman but cowboys and westerns were the superheroes of our time. 

AB: Were there films your parents forbid you to see? What were they and why were you not allowed to see them?

EN: No, my parents trusted me enough and if I could find enough money to go to a movie (which I had to earn) that I wouldn’t squander my money on films I shouldn’t see. If anything the churches tried to dictate what we could and couldn’t see when we went. Most films weren’t controversial and they really weren’t the number 1 popular activity at the time. We had vaudevilles in Manchester and we did that for a while but it was just something that you went to see a film and then you forgot about it, but nothing was controversial like it is today. Not enough to influence us at least. So my parents never had a problem with it If I could afford to go. 

AB: What films were the most influential you?

EN: It’s hard to say because there are so many that did stick in my mind. There was a lot of good movies but the age I lived in was a time where there were so many changes happening: seeing airplanes in the sky for the first time, men being drafted into war and weapons being used in combat, seeing horses and buggies vanish from the roads to be replaced by cars. All of these factors made things like movies seem less influential regardless of how new they were. Seeing the movies was new and exciting but we didn’t see them as the most important thing that was coming along at the time and that’s why I don’t feel like I had any particular films that influenced me the most.

Alec Biron is a New Hampshire native, higher education professional and graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in writing.

About this Author

Alec Biron

Alec Biron is a New Hampshire native and professional content writer with his M.A. in English and Creative Writing. Alec has a background in covering event pieces, travel and culture stories, and personal essays as a freelance writer.