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When Radio Was King!

Updated on January 19, 2020

One of my most cherished boyhood memories was clicking the power switch on our big old console radio, and then running around to the back where I could peer through the perforations of the rear cover as the tube filaments lit up one by one, like tiny campfires in the black void. Soon, I was also rewarded with the glorious mixed odor of hot dust and high voltage ozone, just before the real magic began.

At that age, I had not the slightest idea of how it all worked of course, which only served to make the mystery all the more exquisite. How could voices from such far-away places find their way to our humble living room? And not just any voices, mind you, but the voices of real and glorious heroes, like Tom Mix, Sky King, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tarzan, Steve Canyon, Bobby Benson of the B-Bar-B, and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, boyhood heroes one and all.

Unlike watching TV, the scenes and many of the faces of the radio drama characters were created in the mind and imagination of the listener, like reading a book, and what great visions they were! Of course several, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were also silver-screen movies stars, so their faces were not so imaginary.

Today, many of the old radio shows are available in MP3 format and can be played on our modern vehicle radios. I personally have nearly 6,000 on a 64GB thumb-drive that my vehicle radios will play, and listening makes the miles melt away on long drives.

Most of today's kids have never heard of such radio dramas so when I asked my two young nephews if they wanted to listen to an episode of the radio version of Gunsmoke, I saw them making faces at one another in my rear-view mirror. I played one anyway and after it concluded, I said nothing, but after a mile or so of silence from the backseat, one of them timidly asked if I could play another episode! They were hooked as I knew they would be.

I invite you to check out Internet Archive's Old Time Radio collection. I suspect that you too will be hooked!

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    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks for reminding us of the infamous 'War of the Worlds' broadcast, Geena! It caused a national panic because many listeners failed to hear the several disclaimers that it was only drama.

      It was presented as a musical program interrupted periodically by a breathless announcer describing an invasion of Earth by Mars with massive death and destruction. It caused such panic that local police officers attempted to raid the studio and shut it down, a fact that made the whole thing even worse!

      Some listeners even thought we were being invaded by the Nazis because Hitler was already at war in Europe.

      Again, thanks for reminding us of that Genna!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      18 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Will...

      What a wonderful article, and such a pleasure to read. I think we've lost something in terms of our imaginations, the excitement of the mind and sense of magic that radio conveyed.

      I'll never forget the story my Dad told me about Orson Welles and his radio broadcast, "The War of the Worlds," and its impact on many of those who listened. (I think it was broadcast on Halloween night of 1938, but I don't remember the exact date.) Dan had a recording of the original broadcast, which he played for me. The realism was astonishing -- I was glued to my seat as I listened! Just amazing.

      And I kind of remember the early days television with Roy Rogers and westerns such as Have Gun Will Travel. (My parents wouldn't let my sister and I watch TV until we could read. I thanked them for that wisdom later on in life.)

      Hope you are enjoying your weekend. :-)

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Timothy,

      Big bands were a major attraction in early radio and talented singers were in great demand. It would be fun to search for your aunts on Google!

    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      18 months ago from Chicago Region

      Loved your description of experiencing the magic of radio as a kid. I discovered that four of my great aunts were a singing group on radio in the 1920s. I used to listen to OTR on cassettes and now, of course, on MP3. Radio has a great history.

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, James. Good to hear from you!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      18 months ago from Chicago

      Thank you WillStarr for this information and your reminiscence. I enjoyed it, as I do all of your work.

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      True, Paula! They fired 30 or 40 bullets out of six shooters while chasing villains, but never hit anything. But later, they shot the guns out of the outlaw's hands without ever drawing blood! Wow!

      I was so impressed.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Suzie 

      18 months ago from Carson City

      LOL!! OMG, that's so true, Will. No one ever died! There's a powerful message there! (Our ERA was such a special & wonderful time!)

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Paula!

      I have one old time, tube radio that was a table model. It sports a solid walnut case and it still works great. It has that high quality, mellow sound that Bob (Diogenes) was talking about.

      For all their shooting, the old-time cowboys like Hoppy, Roy, Gene, and the Lone Ranger were lousy shots because they never killed anyone! :)

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Audrey!

      Inner Sanctum's creepy, creaky door introduction was scary enough, followed by an even creepier story. We loved it!

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi RM and good to see you!

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Eric and I remember no electricity at the farm, so many farm radios were battery operated. That was very expensive!

      Yes, The Shadow Knows! :)

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Suzie 

      18 months ago from Carson City

      Will....That photo looks so familiar to me and brought back memories from my childhood. My parents had one very much like the one in your picture. Actually, my Dad kept it working quite well, even as I entered my teens. What a beauty of an antique that radio would be today! That and the similar console "Victrola!" I played my parent's 78 records all the time.....(the old heavy "breakable" records) I salvaged a few of those records. They're wrapped carefully and stored somewhere.

      Gosh what a walk down Memory Lane, Will! I know every one of the "boyhood (?) heroes" you mention.......Hey, girls liked them too, you know!

      LOL....I just remembered something hilarious thanks to you, Will. Believe this or not. My paternal Uncle, who was born many years after my Dad ( just a couple yrs older than my older sister) had "Hop-Along Cassidy" linoleum on his bedroom floor!! As a 5-yr old, I thought that was the neatest thing in the world! LOL

      Thanks for the wonderful memories! Peace, Paula

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      18 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      "Inner Sanctum" mystery rings a bell in this aging head. I was young, but still have memories of the three of us kids, sitting on the floor, being scared out of our wits, but loving it! Wonderful article, my friend. It's always a treat to have you show up and entertain us with your amazing stories.

      Thank you, Will.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      18 months ago

      I remember going home from a Sunday afternoon drive out with my parents and siblings and favourite radio shows playing. Many of those were musical, like "Sing Something Simple" and I remember many of the old songs that played on there, as well as the signature tune from over 60 years ago.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool, we had a Worlitzter for music and the untiladio for sports until about when I was 12 for four months a year. No electricity until about 6 years old. My mom and dad insisted. The Shadow knows?

      during the

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Rebecca,

      SiriusXM, the satellite radio service, now carries many of the old radio shows on channel 148. It's very popular with long haul truck drivers who get tired of listening to music.

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Pamela,

      Radio and TV overlapped for a few years as they competed for an audience, but the lure of having a miniature movie screen in your own home won out and radio shows lost out to the far different programming we have today.

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Shauna,

      TV was still in its infancy when you were born, but yes, the old radio shows were mostly gone by the time you were old enough to appreciate them. CBS Radio Mystery Theater however ran from 1974 to 1982 in an attempt to revive radio. I have all those episodes too!

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Bob!

      Tube amps do sound better because they produce the desired euphonic distortions that solid state cannot mimic.

      I'm old enough to remember short wave radio carrying the news from London. I think it was America's Edward R. Murrow.

      Redford is older that me! :)

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Ruby!

      Stella Dallas, Helen Trent, Young Doctor Malone...lots or radio soaps and most were only 15 minutes!

      The great part about radio was you could go about your business while simultaneously being entertained!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      18 months ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Great article! It would seem that radio show would stimulate the imagination more than TV!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      18 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I wish you were writing more often. I follow you on Fcebook but an article like this is truly unique. I didn't know you could still get the radio collections.

      I don't remember a radio like this, but I do remember the first TV with the very small black and white picture. Of course, we watched those shows. Thanks for the good information.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      18 months ago from Central Florida

      Will, I always look forward to your posts. This one is no different.

      I was born in 1957, so didn't have the luxury of hearing the shows I watched on TV on the radio. But I totally get what you mean. Those episodes put imagination into gear, just as books do today. I think that's why I love reading; my imagination forms the characters and settings based on the authors' descriptions. For that reason, I don't watch MTV. When it first was aired, they showed Billy Idol's "White Wedding" video. It was nothing like what my mind saw when I heard the song. I didn't like the video version. My imagination is much more creative, so I'll stick with it.

      It's nice to know that the old radio versions are still available. Your nephews are blessed to have been introduced to media that coerces your mind to see what your ears hear.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 

      18 months ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi, Will: Good to see you again. There was something about the old heater tubes that transistors have lost: a depth of sound or something.

      With me growing up in the UK it was the old radio shows like Biggles...had to be a bit weird with that name. I remember listening to sports like the Sugar Ray Robinson/ Randy Turpin fight where Turpin won, but was taken to pieces on the rematch...it was said Turpin liked the bottle and the birds too much! The beast!

      I was long enough in the States to know of all those names you mention.

      By gawd, you look young in that picture!...it is you and not Redford, isn't it!

      Happy 2020

      Bob

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      18 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Will, I can remember a radio show that I listened to every week day, it was Stella Dallas and it made my day. I was around 12 and that's the way I escaped the hum- drum life in the country. The kids are missing so much, always punching smart phones. It is good to see you writing on HP. I love your stories!

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Good point, Bill and correct. Audio only releases the imagination to see what it wants to see. So does the written word.

      Many of my stories circulate in Arizona prisons, and as a result, I received a few illustrations of what the inmates saw in their mind's eye. They were nothing like what I saw myself as I wrote them. Let the imagination take you for a ride!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I was a wee tad at the end of the radio era...I do remember the family gathering around the radio, but I was only three or four. Interestingly, with the popularity of podcasts, we are seeing a rebirth of that format. I listen to quite a few podcasts and it is quite similar to the old days. :)

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, John! I'll check on old radio from other countries like Australia and the UK. I'll bet there are also lots of WW2 radio recording to be found.

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks for that very useful comment, Louise Powles! I didn't know about the old films!

    • WillStarr profile imageAUTHOR

      WillStarr 

      18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I have many episodes of all those, Rochelle and they too are available:

      https://archive.org/search.php?query=old%20time%20...

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      18 months ago from Gondwana Land

      You brought back pleasant memories, Will. I can remember doing the same with the old “wireless” as we called them. I fondly remember many old radio serials as well from Britain, USA, and Australia. I am glad you are still able to access these so thank you for sharing that information.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      18 months ago from Norfolk, England

      Oh, Internet Archive is fabulous for all that old stuff! I love that website. I grab a lot of the old films on there. I often listen to my radio.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      18 months ago from California Gold Country

      I remember listening to those radio dramas. I was usually on the floor with my coloring book. Love your nephews' reaction. We also litened to the comedies, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and more.

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