Long ago—before the word podcast was ever a thing—the Golden Age of Radio filled American homes with broadcasts of comedy sitcoms, up-to-date news from around the world, stories of science fiction, soap-operas, variety hours, talent shows, children’s shows and even quiz shows.
There were three big radio networks; National Broadcasting Company or NBS, American Broadcasting Company, or ABC, and Columbia Broadcasting System, or CBS. A fourth smaller network, Mutual Broadcasting System rounded out the stations controlling the majority of the programming . . . and sponsors controlled the networks.
At first, sponsors bought a show’s title for advertising, like Champion Spark Plug Hour or A&P (a long-gone grocery store) Gypsies. By doing so, during the early days of radio, there were no commercial interruption and in fact, commercials were thought of as rude, but after a few years, advertisers created a mid-show break and used that time to promote their goods.
|Reading the script
Sponsors like Maxwell House Coffee would use this mid-show break to entertain while promoting. Perhaps, they’d have a fashion show, where the newest styles would be described or maybe a super-star from the big-screen would speak about the reasons the listener should spend their hard earned (and scarce during the Great Depression years) money on their products.
Programming varied wildly. As mentioned previously, a station may have broadcast a live music show, or a comedy variety show, or a dramatic mystery. Every type of programming that you might find on television today, was played on radio . . . only often times, it was live. Actors and actresses would stand (or sit) at a microphone with a script in hand and read and act out the story. Super-stars like Clark Gable and Betty Grable would revise a roll they played on the big screen for those at home. Major motion pictures like Bachelor and the Bobbysocks, and The Maltese Falcon were re-played on radio shows with the original cast acting out the script.
|Abbott and Costello
Another common beginning for radio shows was comic strips. Blondie, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Li’l Abner, Popeye the Sailor and many more comics were wildly popular on radio. Some eventually were made into long running cartoons or television shows.
The family comedy Father Knows Best made a successful transition to the new media, television. Some shows made this move easily, while others failed. The basic outline of radio was adapted by TV and though eventually the new television media replaced radio, it took a long time for families to give up the cozy habit of listening to radio programing.
|Cast of The Guiding Light
Today as podcasts make a bigger and bigger impact on media, I often think of the popularity of The Golden Age of Radio. I have to wonder if listening to entertainment isn’t better for our brain function than watching the television.
If you’re interested listening to some old-time radio, it’s as simple as doing an internet search. Many, many old shows are available for download or to simply play and enjoy. There are even a few mobile apps to download. Try it, radio shows are a great way to pass time while at the gym or doing yard work.
Thank you for joining me today on Heroes, Heroines and History. I hope wherever you are, you’re happy, healthy and loved. Until next month, my friends—adios.
Michele is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.