Recently, I was watching a comedienne bemoan the fact that she missed out on the “golden age” of being a mom in the 1980s. She jokes that back then, parents were permitted to just forget that they even had kids, before reminding her audience that TV stations used to run ads reminding parents to locate their children. Everyone laughed because in the U.S., everyone over a certain age remembers these PSAs.
Here is an example:
It’s hard to believe now – but there was indeed a time when parents were reminded by a stern voice coming from their TVs to locate their children. The whole thing made me wonder, though, how this PSA came to be.
Thanks to an article at tedium.com, I will share some of that “how it came to be” with you here in the excerpt below:
“Do you know where your children are?” is not an optimistic slogan. It’s a warning.
There’s a certain degree of dread hiding behind the simple, evocative message—not to suggest the worst is actually happening, but that it’s out there.
The actual history behind the phrase is hazy. The earliest reference I can find related to its use is January 1967, when a Baltimore newspaper referenced a local station using the phrase in reference to the 11 p.m. hour. Another early claimant to the phrase is Buffalo’s WKBW-TV, whose iconic anchor Irv Weinstein was long associated with using the phrase.
But perhaps the most common association with the local TV meme is via WNEW, which more than any other station, made it their own.
According to a 1985 New York Daily News article, the slogan came into use out of concern for the city’s minority communities, according to Charlotte Morris, who served as the network’s public affairs director. Morris dated the slogan to around 1968, as a part of the station’s “Focus” public affairs segments, when a concerned citizen in Brooklyn, Mildred Coleman, expressed concerns about children who were frequently out after hours.
“Mrs. Coleman told me that there were little children running around at night getting into mischief,” Morris told the Daily News. “She said it was the fault of the parents, and she asked to do a Focus spot urging parents to keep track of their kids.”
So where did the actual phrase come from—and why did it get associated with 10 p.m. specifically? The credit for that, according to Mental Floss, is a result of some canny branding on the part of both the station manger, Mel Epstein, and its lead anchor, Tom Gregory, who came to use the phrase at the top of the station’s Faces and Places in the News. Eventually, the phrase merged into the station’s own branding—as WNEW, known today as WNYW, came to call its newscast The 10 O’Clock News.
We can only assume WNYW came up with it, but they came to own it.
Some of the additional context for the origins of the PSA are included in the article, at the link. At any rate, the PSA kind of resonated within the zeitgeist, took on a life of its own, and still lives on to some degree in more recent times.
I am happy to report that thanks to these Public Service Announcements, American parents experienced a 62 percent increase in locating their children before the evening news.