The Magic of Old Radio Programs

By: Morgan Hamilton

There was time not so far away when stories had words only, where the audience had to imagine the size and shape of characters and locations. Grannies used to tell stories to the kids, and the kids used to see the story live in their imagination. Radio programs had a great appeal to masses till television swept away the audience, leaving literally nothing for imagination.

Between 1920s and 1960s, people used to listen to radio to keep track of latest events in the country and abroad and for entertainment purposes – the only difference we have today is we see everything on a TV. Early radio programs give a chance for the people to use their imagination to truly enjoy the different programs. The classic example is ‘You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx’, a radio program that captured the imagination of a generation. It was a competition program, in which when the contestant makes the correct answer, a duck would be made fallen from the ceiling. The prizes included anything including money and donuts. People heard a quack sound helped them understand that a contestant made a fortune.

It was quite appealing for an entire generation to listen to the radio program of Fibber Magee and Molly for a long period – from 1935-53. The radio program was able to stimulate real feel of running jokes. People could see in their imagination what it was intended in the comedy. The radio program, Abbott and Costello, by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello was a constant source of entertainment for a whole generation.

People eagerly waited for their weekly radio program by their favorite entertainers – Burns and Allen, Danny Kaye, Jackie Benny, Orson Wells, etc.

Wells’ broadcast of “War of the Worlds", the narration of a fictional story of aliens annihilating human race. Themed music and detailed narration of Martians sweeping away whole towns gave the radio program a Halloween story like appeal and fear. The radio program can be considered to be the first one to generate that mass appeal. People were not listening to the radio program as something fictional, but they believed it was true narration of happenings somewhere. Following the success of War of the Worlds, another program was started by Amos and Andy in another radio network.

Radio program listening is not a obsolete practice, in fact it shows revival in some areas. Prairie Home Companion by Garrison Keillor is popular weekend flick. It has a large audience backing and pays homage to radio programs of the past, in all genres from sketch comedy, to music programs that attracted many in the past.

There were also instances when people pursued radio programs to further explore the storylines of TV programs and movies. The classic examples would be BBC’s sci-fi super hit Dr. Who, and Star Wars in America. Radio programs are presented in different appealing ways. In fact lot of developments coming up in the way of radio programs, especially in the form of FM radio services. Music, entertainment, fun, fantasy, excitement etc for your ears and imagination, not for your eyes and eyes only.

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