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The Beat Generation

The Story

Every bohemia has its poseurs, and the beat generation is no different. The common perception of "beatniks" is that they are marijuana-smoking riffraff who indulge in orgies. On CBC Radio's Assignment, reporter John David Hamilton says that view may be true for the followers. But the leaders of the movement, such as Jack Kerouac, are serious poets: to be beat, he says, is to be "at the bottom of your personality looking up."

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Feb. 13, 1959
Guest(s): John David Hamilton, Irving Rosenthal
Host: Bill McNeil
Reporter: John Lurch
Duration: 5:24

Did You know?

• The term "beat generation" was coined by writer Jack Kerouac in 1948. "Beat" meant used up or ruined, and Kerouac used it to describe himself and a group of friends who didn't quite fit in with straight society after the Second World War.

• The word "beatnik" came ten years later from a San Francisco newspaper columnist. The "nik" suffix referred to Sputnik, a Soviet satellite.

Assignment was a long-running CBC program that launched in the fall of 1956. According to creator Harry J. Boyle, it was "based on the premise that there are countless good human interest stories that never reach the news wires." Publicity material for Assignment described it as a "sound pictorial."

• A 1971 article on the show's 15th anniversary noted: "At the time it was an innovation since the only people heard on the radio then were celebrities."

• The documentary about beatniks discussed in this Assignment clip aired in its entirety on another CBC Radio show, Project 59. Harry Boyle created Project 59 at the prompting of a CBC manager who said, "Do something that will bring a sense of excitement back to radio."

• Other Project 59 programs focused on topics such as pre-revolution Cuba, the battle for Ortona, the Red Army Chorus and Band, and Jimmy Hoffa.




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