The golden age of radio

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, September 16, 2021

Something interesting. Something old, and yet today is very, very new. I have written many times before about my love of history, history in all its aspects. And one of those aspects is a love for classic entertainment. Such as an old movie with actors that truly had talent that is nearly lost in today’s world where one has to have a special beauty and not talent to succeed. I firmly believe people like W.C. Fields or Edward G. Robinson would not make it as big in today’s world where everyone wants to watch a pretty person on the screen. They would most likely be resigned to the “best friend” role. Talent is overlooked in some cases in place of beauty. However, it is not the visual side of the entertainment world I want to discuss in this week’s edition.

I am speaking of The Golden Age of Radio, also known as the old-time radio (OTR) era. It was an era of radio in the United States where it was the dominant electronic home entertainment medium. It began with the birth of commercial radio broadcasting in the early 1920s and lasted through the 1950s, when television gradually superseded radio as the medium of choice for scripted programming, variety and dramatic shows. This was “the” first true form of in-home entertainment. In fact, the entertainment of sound would forever lead the direction in which our world would go as far as our media needs are concerned.

Think about it for a minute. First we had records, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, cds and then digital. And in the world of video, reel to reel, VHS, laserdisc, dvds, then digital. But it was the audio that led the way. If you want to see the future of entertainment, watch the audio world. Today vehicles are being built without cd players, and most are only using Bluetooth technology. And now you can watch nearly every movie ever made on streaming services like Prime, Netflix and others. Also in today’s world you can buy a 70-inch television for $700 and watch a brand new release on your TV for $30 and if you do the math one realizes that it is much less expensive than going to the cinema where you are forced to buy your food there, and pay for a ticket for every member of your family costing upwards to $50 or more when done. I predict in 20 years most of the movie theaters will be gone and everyone will stay home and invite friends over to watch the latest movie releases and even if everyone pitches in at $5, you can see a new release for $5 and order a $5 dollar pizza if you want. That way you can see a movie for nearly nothing.

However it is not the future I want to discuss, it is the glorious past.

A few weeks ago I was walking around an antique store in downtown Elizabethton when I happened upon a basket of cassette tapes. The price was marked at 0.25 each. I couldn’t help myself. I had to look even though I no longer have a cassette player. As I flipped through them I noticed most were all old time radio shows, and not just radio shows but my favorites from when I was a child. I remembered going to Cracker Barrel to eat and as I walked around the gift shop I would see these cassettes for sale. Back then we had no cable television and definitely had no TV in my room so I talked my mother and father into getting me a couple of these tapes, then at night I would lay in bed and listen to them on a small cassette player my grandmother had bought me. I was hooked. And here and now in this basket was Jack Benny, my favorite comedian, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and one of my all-time favorite horror shows, Suspense. In fact, as an amazing stroke of luck the Suspense episode in the basket is my all-time favorite show called the House on Cypress Canyon, a haunting story where you can hear what sounds like a monster screaming somewhere inside the old house. I had this episode on cassette when I was around ten years old. I still listen to them on an old time radio app I downloaded from the app store on my phone. Or the app is usually listed as OTR for short. My son, who is seven, listens to Jack Benny every night at bed time. He knows the tune, the characters and it thrills me to be able to pass this along. I am sure most children his age would have no idea what he is talking about when he mentions listening to them. But I digress. So I grabbed up a lot of cassettes, not to listen to, but for nostalgic purposes. Just looking at them sitting on my shelf beside my record player from the ’70s, which is actually my son’s, a gift from a friend to my son who loves what he considers antiques. If you have not already, I encourage you to download the OTR app from any app store and listen to the wonderful stories and great acting and the best part it’s all free. Free entertainment — you cannot beat that. Just something to ponder.  

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