Old Time Radio: Culture Changing Phenomenon
 
Technology, ala the Internet, can certainly provide greater access to cultural history. The increasing number of historic audio recordings posted on-line every day brings us closer to our rich cultural history in a variety of ways. The slogan from the History Channel, “Where the past comes alive.” certainly applies to the topic of old time radio.

While listening to some of these "golden age" recordings one can catch a glimpse of the apprehension that gripped the nation in the 1940s, side by side with a rising sense of bravery and patriotism. The show, Eyes Aloft (1942 NBC West Coast) illustrates this very well. Or, just for the fact that early Superman broadcasts often positioned the hero in opposition with a Nazi evil “genius” who devised some wicked plot to take over the world, are among the many telltale signs of the environment from which these works arose. Indeed within these themes is a vivid impression of a people emerging from the great depression, struggling with incomprehensible challenges of WWII, yet continuing to face down monumental odds in spite of everything.

By the same token, the music of this era was nearly always upbeat and joyful, down right exuberant at times. Even during some of the bleakest periods of financial collapse and hardship, these tunes rang out seemingly in stark counterbalance. The truly remarkable thing about all of this? The music along with the old time radio dramas, comedies, adventures created during the pre 50s era STILL work their magic today. For most folks they have every bit the power to uplift, inspire and enchant just as they did more than 60 years ago.

Listen though the less-than-optimal sound reproduction, through the corn-ball humor and melodrama, and you just might hear some of the best works of all time. With authors like Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, where science took us, science fiction would carry us the rest of the way. Also of course the great comedy writers of the day, Billy Wells (The Jack Pearl Show), Don Quinn (Fibber McGee and Molly) and Irwin Shaw (The Gumps). And yes, lest I not forget to mention the great adventure stores of the day including for example the western sagas that came from the majestic imagination of writer John Meston of Gunsmoke fame.

No wonder early radio was hailed, cherished, and at times feared. Certainly a cultural changing phenomenon was afoot, as both kids and grownups tuned in daily to get a feel for what might be “out there”, i.e. outside their routine environment, over the ridge, through the wide plains and even across the great oceans. From the most primitive times when tribes people swapped stories and legends of distant lands, we spin ahead to the golden age of radio where the same tradition of story swapping continued on a mega scale thanks to this particular advancement in technology.

“Tuning in” was the new and magical phrase of the day. It was the thing that had the power to direct one’s imagination to the farthest reaches of time and space. Now in our present time, here in the waning months of 2010, that power is still there, lucid and undiminished. Perhaps many of these old time broadcasts are jewels in the rough, but they are jewels nevertheless. Actually, it’s easy to really “get” the timeless nature of old time radio. All that's required is to tune in, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

-- Joseph Maas, 20thCenturyRadio.com
 
 
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