Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Tune In

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 20, 2011

The phrase “tune in, turn on and drop out” was THE buzz phrase kicked off by Dr. Timothy Leary on September 19 1966.  The man most associated with encouraging an entire generation to drop acid — LSD — made the most of the expression “tune in” which means “to pay attention or be receptive to other’s beliefs or thoughts.”  By the time Timothy Leary spoke to over 30,000 hippies at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on January 14, 1967, the buzz phrase had been turned around a bit and was now “turn on, tune in, drop out.”  The meaning of “tune in” however remained unchanged.

When the October 9, 1960 edition of the Miami News hit the streets, it carried an article written by Clarke Ash, Sunday Editor of the newspaper, about Round 2 of the “Great Debate” between then-Senator John F. Kennedy and then-Vice-President Richard M. Nixon.  The headline read:  “The Decision? Tune In Next Month.”

A generation before that, and with the phrase growing in popularity, the Portsmouth Times ran a story on January 25, 1936 entitled, “Tune In On Al Smith.”  The Al Smith in question was former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith with his message of constructive government and sound Americanism.

On May 24, 1929 the Spokesman Review newspaper of Spokane, Washington published an article entitled “Classics Furnish New Words.”  It indicates that the expression “tune in” was part of the vernacular in 1929 and understood by newspaper subscribers.  The article read in part:

With the correct logical training that comes almost imperceptibly as one reads an inflected language, there goes along with it in Latin and Greek the matter of important, interesting and exhilarating content.  To tune in mentally with Homer, Euripides, Lucretius or Vergil is a real experience.  It has been often done.  The saddest thing about it is, of course, that those who don’t do it, can’t see it.

Radio hit a fevered pitch as the new “in thing” for households in 1922.  The New York Times along with other notable major newspapers began running radio columns to keep their readers in the know about the new medium.  In fact, radio editor Lloyd C. Greene of the Boston Daily Globe wrote a column on September 10, 1922 about the success of single tube radios and their users in the story “Citizen Radio Broadcasts.”

I have been interested in reading the different articles on remarkable reception appearing in the Globe as I myself have been experimenting with a single tube outfit with more or less success.

He added that “all could be tuned in at will by varying the value of the secondary condenser.”  And so began the induction of the phrase into every day language.

The expression was picked up by flappers and such and injected into the jargon of that generation and so successfully that the Boston Daily Globe edition of May 8, 1921 ran an article entitled, “Movie Facts and Fancies” which that identified “tune in” as part of the “new slang evolved through the popularity of the motion picture.”

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One Response to “Tune In”

  1. Elyse – Interested to know where you determined the TUNE IN it was Lloyd first used for radio….
    really interested in any reference to Lloyd C. Green as we have not just a radio designed by him, but we have one of his personal radios here at the SMECC museum! see http://www.smecc.org to learn more about the communications museum in Arizona. Look forward to hearing more. – Many Thanks Ed Sharpe archivist for SMECC

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