BBC Radio 4



Excerts from half-hour Broadcast on the BBC
Interview with Kenny Greenberg

Intro to Radio Programme (284k mp3 file)
Neon on the Broadway Stage (1.5mb mp3 file)
Closing Anecdote - Las Vegas in the 50's (541k mp3 file)

Ian Peacock blazes a neon trail from LA to New York

Friday 11.00-11.30am 1 November 2002

Ian Peacock journeys across America in search of neon signs past and present, to examine the story of the promoters and geniuses who fashion colour and light, electricity and information into icons.

No other country has embraced neon light as much as the USA. Neon has nocturnally splashed the American Dream across the continent since it arrived in Los Angeles in the 1920s . It may just have become an octogenarian, with more comebacks than Sinatra, but it’s still bewitching the night skies all the way from The City of Angels to the City That Never Sleeps. In many ways it’s an unlikely star - a colourless inert gas, but link it in a glass tube to a transformer and bombard it with electrons and it glows bright orange; coat the glass with phosphorescent powders and palette of 150 colours opens up to alchemise the American landscape as soon as dusk falls.

Ian Peacock

Ian Peacock

But is neon a piece of kitch or a flash of inspiration from a bygone age? Travelling from Los Angeles to New York, Ian Peacock discovers that neon has had its X-rated moments and its B-movie era, but also its grand premieres and animated show stoppers. The journey begins in Downtown LA on the site where a travelling car salesman, Earle C Anthony, erected a 5 foot sign, commissioned from neon’s Parisian inventor, George Claude, to advertise his Packard showroom. People flocked from miles around, drawn to the lure of the blazing blue and red light. Today West Coast neon signs, snuffed out in World War Two, are being rekindled as part of a huge urban renewal programme - recovering the past and pointing to an equally bright urban future.

Neon Clocks

Tripping the Light Fantastic traces neon’s spread like a prairie fire along route 66 to New York, stopping off to meet the glass benders and craftspeople who draw with light, and the charismatic Tama Starr. She’s the so-called lamplighter of Broadway and the impresario behind a host of neon 'spectaculars' including the world famous coke sign. All neon freeways lead to Times Square - a document of 20th century US history, where Corporate America has finally embraced the signage of sleaze and consumerism - and where neon, not to be out done by newer competing light technologies, has found a place indoors as well as out.

Neon may grace the exterior of buildings but its blazing light exposes the innards of America and, as Ian Peacock discovers, its many meanings continue to evolve in the 21st century.

More Neon

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