Friday, June 10, 2011
Radio When I Was a Kid
How we used to love radio programs. I still think that, in some ways, they were better than television programs of today. But perhaps not because they left a lot to the imagination and, at times, my imagination was too vivid.
My boy cousins and I liked to listen to a variety of programs.
In those days, one of the most listened to children's programs on radio was Bobby Benson and the “B-Bar-B Riders.” The show was heard on network radio for many years. Eventually, my cousins and I outgrew it and moved on to other things, like television. They got a set long, long before we did. In fact, my grandmother would not buy a television until I graduated from high school and she retired from teaching. She thought it was too distracting.
The Bobby Benson show began in 1932 long before my birth in 1940. It ended in 1936 and a second version began in 1949 (when I was age 8) and lasted until 1955 (when I was 14). Benson was on radio longer than any other kids' dramatic show including “Superman,” “Green Hornet,” “Captain Midnight,” “Sky King,” and “Straight Arrow.”
The B-Bar-B ranch featured: Bobby Benson as “The Cowboy Kid.”
The show that caused me to have nightmares, however, was “The Shadow,” a radio drama which officially premiered the fall of 1937 (three years before I premiered). The main character had the power to cloud men's minds so they couldn’t see him.
Even now, the thought of the opening by actor Frank Readick Jr., can send shivers up my spine. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” The introduction was accompanied by an eerie, ominous laugh and a musical theme, “Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Rouet d'Omphale.” A moral statement was made at the end of each program: “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay! The Shadow knows!”
The nice thing about the radio was that you could carry on life and listen at the same time. The programs came on after school and in the mornings on Saturdays. We usually had a rest time to play or listen to the radio after school before we did homework. There wasn’t as much homework in those days. We sometimes had reading, or arithmetic or had to write a paper, but we mostly had evenings when we could unwind before we ate and got ready for bed.
We kids could lay on the floor and listen to the radio or we could color or help with housework and still keep up. I could, and usually did, take my time dusting the living room, my Saturday job, waiting for a favorite program to end.
During World War II, I remember that we all gathered around the radio each evening for the latest report on the war. The different war theaters were covered as much as was allowed. Some information was kept quiet because no one wanted Hitler to know what was happening until after it happened.
After the war one popular show was “Queen for a Day” which ran from 1945–1957 and then moved to television. I remember visiting Aunt Jessie (my grandmother’s sister), her husband, Uncle Gilbert Brighton, and Great-Grandmother Mina Pritchett in California. We watched the show on their television set.
The show opened with host Jack Bailey asking the audience: “Would you like to be Queen for a day?” Contestants were then introduced and interviewed with each one talking about the difficulties she had endured. Bailey asked each contestant what she needed most. The audience then selected the winner via the applause meter. The winner was draped in a sable-trimmed red velvet robe, was crowned and sat on a throne and given a dozen long-stemmed roses. Her prizes were announced and always included what the woman had requested. After that, a variety of extras were given, such kitchen appliances, fashion clothing and vacations. The losing contestants were also given important gifts so that no one left empty-handed.
Once a lady from Price that we knew became the Queen for a Day.
We also listened to “The Adventures of Superman,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” “The Cisco Kid,” “The Green Hornet,” “Tom Mix,” “Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.”
Favorites of the adults were: “ The Guy Lombardo Show,” “The Kate Smith Hour,” “The Metropolitan Opera,” and “Truth or Consequences.”
The Golden Age of Radio in the United States lasted from the early 1920s until television took its place in the 1950s. According to a 1947 C. E. Hooper survey, 82 out of 100 Americans were regular radio listeners. After all, there was adventure, comedy, drama, horror, mystery, musical variety, romance, thrillers, classical music concerts, big bands, popular music, farm reports, news and commentary, panel discussions, quiz shows, sidewalk interviews, broadcasts, talent shows and weather forecasts.
Sometimes we could get the adults in the family to buy the right cold cereal so that we could cut off the box tops and order our own badges, rings, decoding devices and other radio premiums.
Then, like now, Grandma and I would turn on the radio and listen to music as she checked papers and I did homework, colored, or in my teen years, actually helped her out with correcting papers. That only happened a bit, however. By the time I had arrived at high school age, I had lots of homework.