Friday, February 22, 2013

History of the Radio-Part Two-The Golden Age

The invention of amplifying vacuum tubes was one of the main things that helped to move the radio from military use to civilian use in the mid-1920's. When the government allowed civilians to broadcast on the airwaves after World War I, many radio stations were formed across the United States.

In 1920, the first news program was broadcast over the radio from Detroit, Michigan, station 8MK. This program covered the results of the local election. Later that year, the first United states commercial radio station, KDKA was established, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in 1922, the first entertainment programs were broadcast on the radio. In 1923, Los Angeles radio station, KHJ, broadcast the Rosebowl for the very first time.

More and more Americans were buying radios and by 1938, four out of five homes had a radio. During World War II, the radio helped to keep up the morale of the country and to keep up to date with the latest happenings of the war. The radio was always a great source for news, but during the troubled and worrisome days of the war, the radio helped to ease that burden a bit.

There were five major networks that were popular during the golden age of radio. These stations were:

National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)
Mutual Broadcasting System
Armed Forces American Forces Radio Service
American Broadcasting Company (ABC)

The networks were broadcasting live throughout the 1930's and early 1940's because the recording techniques up until that time, just weren't any good. It wasn't until the 1940's, when magnetic wire started being used for recording, which was more cost effective and had better sound quality. Very soon after, magnetic tape recording took over as the main way to record shows for the radio because of the ease in editing this type of medium. Most of these shows though, were delivered to local radio stations on a 33 1/2 rpm vinyl phonograph record.

Many recordings that have survived today are re-recordings of the vinyl phonograph records onto reel-to-reel or cassette tape recordings. Much of the noise, change in quality and other defects is the natural degradation of the materials that the collector had available at the time to record on. It is very hard to find original tapes of radio shows because this tape could be reused and recorded over.

The soap opera began in the 1930's, with the serial, Clara, Lu and Em. Most radio serials that ran a continuing story targeted housewives as the main audience. These show were 15 minute shows that ran in the daytime hours and were sponsored by cleaning products. Thus, the name soap opera was derived.

Musical shows were very popular, as were comedies, featuring the top vaudeville stars and comedians of the time. Anything that was considered entertainment was tried out on the radio, from films to Broadway plays to comic strips being adapted for this medium. Many great radio programs were broadcast during these years. Be sure to check out, for many of the best shows from the Golden Age of Radio.

The peak of the Golden Age of Radio was in the 1930's. Other venues of entertainment actually scheduled around popular radio shows, otherwise, no one would fill their seats. The radio shows that were produced had to take the listener into the show by relying on sound effects.  These old time radio programs used some very innovative ways to get the sound they needed. Check out this video to see the behind the scenes of an old time radio show.

Many of the radio programs that were written during the golden age of radio were became classics and were really the pioneers of television entertainment. Much of the success of the television resulted from using the same formats that those old time radio shows used. In the 1950's, the popular radio shows of the day, successfully moved to the small screen and continued on.

Radio continued to thrive after the Golden Age, but it became mostly a medium for music, news and sports. When rock and roll began in the 1950's, the radio had a huge part in its success. FM radio became popular for music in the 1960's because there was less static and provided a much better quality of sound. All cars come standard with a radio and although there is now satellite radio that people can purchase, FM radio is still thriving and AM radio has become known for talk shows.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The History of the Radio-Part One

History of the Radio

Part One

Marconi Radio Receiver
Marconi Radio Receiver

There has always been some debate about who the inventor of the radio is. Therefore, it might be best to say that several people were responsible for the invention of the radio that we know and love today. Radio was first developed for a means of communication between two people who are in different places. An effective means of communication between people at different locations has been sought after since the beginning of civilization.

When Benjamin Franklin discovered that there were negative and positive charges in electricity, the search to use electricity as means for communication was started. Radio signals were sent through the many cables of the telephone network and were used mainly for the military.

Heinrich Hertz
Heinrich Hertz
Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
During the 1860's, radio waves were shown to exist by James Clerk Maxwell, who was a Scottish physicist. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell sent a message using an electromagnetic signal. In 1886, Heinrich Hertz showed that radio waves could be transmitted and received. He had no idea that this would be a very important building block for the development of the radio.

Nikola Tesla was the inventor of the model for radio, but only in theory. However, Tesla's invention of transformers and the Tesla coil helped in the production of radios. These were some of the core components used in radios.

Guglielmo Marconi 1901
Guglielmo Marconi 1901
Guglielmo Marconi was a physicist from Italy and in 1896, he sent coded signals about a mile. He instantly saw the potential for this type of communication and tried to give this invention to the government of Italy but they weren't interested. He decided to move to England and continued to experiment with this wireless technology and to patent his invention. In 1898, he broadcast the winners of the Kingstown Regatta to a Dublin newspaper. This was the first public sporting broadcast. Marconi built a radio factory and joined Britain And France with a telegraphic link. In 1901, the United States was linked by telegraph radio to Britain.

J.C. Bose
J.C. Bose
In 1896, a scientist from India, J.C. Bose, showed the British Governor General that a radio transmission could be sent over three miles away. In 1899, Bose once again demonstrated this for the Royal Society in London. While at this event, his notebook that included a drawing illustrating a Mercuri Cohere with a telephone detector, was stolen. Marconi happened to be at this event and when Marconi developed his own Coherer, it was an exact copy of Bose's.

Bose did apply for a patent as the inventor of the radio, in 1901 and was awarded it in 1904. However, Marconi by this time had already received the recognition and patent for being the inventor of the radio.

The first wireless transmission of voice, however, was not made until 1895, when Russian, Aleksander Poppov sent a secret message to a ship on the ocean. This was kept secret and the Russian government only recently has given Poppov this credit.

Reginald Fessenden
Reginald Fessenden
In 1904, Ernst Alexanderson was the first to make an alternator that made it possible to transmit speech, instead of dots and dashes. Reginald Fessenden is usually credited with the first voice transmission that was made in 1906, when he used Alexanderson's alternator. This alternator enabled him to make the first long range transmission of something other than dots and dashes.  Ships out at sea could hear Fessenden playing the violin and reading a Bible verse.

Lee De Forest
Lee De Forest
The Audion Triode Vacuum Tube
The Audion Triode Vacuum Tube
In the early 1900's, this technology was used mostly as a radio telegraphy system using Morse Code. In 1907, an American inventor by the name of Lee De Forest patented the electronic device, the Audion, which was a vacuum tube that amplified radio waves. This vacuum tube enabled music, voice or other broadcast signal to be heard clearly. These tubes detected different frequencies so that different channels could be detected and used.

In 1912, the American airwaves became regulated by the Federal government. All ships had to include a radio and a trained operator. Any amateur radio operators needed to be licensed. As other inventors and businessmen were beginning to see the potential for these amplified radio waves, World War I broke out and the government took over all radio broadcasts and closed down any other radio stations that were not needed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Rise of Gossip On Old Time Radio

It is absolutely crazy when you think of how famous some of these gossip columnists are and how their names are still recognizable today. Usually people who talk about others and spread rumors are shunned in society.

Walter Winchell

walter winchell
Walter Winchell

Walter Winchell was probably the first famous gossip columnists. He became very popular for writing the first syndicated newspaper column, which was called, On Broadway. He had many connections in the government, as well as, in the entertainment industry. He would find out embarrassing or exciting information about well-known people and expose them in his column. He became very powerful and feared and he often used this information to attack the people he didn't like.

In the 1930's, he had his own radio show and became very famous when he covered the Lindburgh kidnapping. Because he backed Senator McCarthy in his anti-communism campaign, he also lost favor with the American public as McCarthyism was exposed. He died a lonely man at the age of 74 and supposedly, the only one to attend his funeral was his daughter.

Louella Parsons 

louella parsons
Louella Parsons

Louella Parsons was the very first movie columnist in America. Her columns were syndicated to over 400 newspapers throughout the world and read by over 20 million people. 

She began her literary career as a writer for the Dixon Star in 1902. She wrote about the goings on of the Dixon area social elite. In 1914, Parsons began a gossip column dealing with the actors in the new media of films and movies for the Chicago Record Herald. In 1923, she join the New York American, which was owned by William Randolph Hearst. She remained the "Queen of Hollywood" untile Hedda Hopper arrived. She helped Hedda get her start and the two soon became rivals and feuded for years.

Hedda Hopper 

hedda hopper
Hedda Hopper
Hedda Hopper came into the world as Elda Furry in the small town of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. When she was a young girl, she ran away from home and landed in New York City on a chorus line on Broadway. She was not successful in this venture and ended up in the theater company of DeWolf Hopper. The two eventually married with Elda being his fifth wife. The previous four wives all had names similar to Elda, which were, Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella. She was tired of her husband calling her the wrong name so she paid 10 dollars to have a numerologist choose a new name for her and that name was Hedda.

Hedda appeared in many movies from 1915 to the mid 1930's, playing small roles, usually as a beautiful and distinguished society woman. As her movie career was coming to a close, she was looking for ways to earn a living and began writing a gossip column in the Los Angeles Times, entitled, Hedda Hopper's Hollywood. Because she had many connections in Hollywood, she had the juiciest gossip and she was very sadistic in her naming of names. She became quite famous for her large, often flamboyant hats; so much so that a song was even written about her in the film Breakfast in Hollywood, which was written by Spike Jones.

She began her career in radio with the old time radio show, The Hedda Hopper Show in 1939. Although she changed networks a few times, she had some form of radio show up until 1951.

Jimmie Fidler

jimmie fidler
Jimmie Fidler

Jimmie Fidler was even more feared by the studios that both Hedda Harper and Louella Parsons. A bad box-office review by Fidler meant lost dollars for the film. He started out as a Hollywood publicist and later wrote a syndicated gossip column called Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood, which was printed in 187 newspapers. 

In 1933, he began a 15 minute radio show on NBC, called Hollywood on the Air. By 1950, his show was broadcast on 486 radio stations and heard by over 40 million people.

Ed Sullivan

ed sullivan
Ed Sullivan
Ed Sullivan is most famous for the variety show that turned on teenagers to Elvis Presley and The Beatles. However, he began his career as a sportswriter for the newspaper, The New York Evening Graphic. When Walter Winchell left the newspaper, Ed Sullivan took over Winchell's role as theatre columnist.

He soon became a starmaker in the entertainment business and became one of Walter Winchell's biggest rivals. He soon began doing radio broadcasts of show business news until 1948, when he began the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the longest running shows on American television, spanning 23 years.

Tex and Jinx 

tex and jinx
Tex and Jinx
Tex and Jinx were a duo made up of Eugenia Lincoln "Jinx" Falkenburg, one fo the very first of the "supermodels," and journalist and publicist, Tex McCrary, who were married to each other. This couple was the first to come up with the popular, talk-show format. The interviewed a series of celebrities during the 1940's and 50's, discussing the important topics and news of the day.

The couple had their first radio show, which was aired in the mornings, five days a week on the New York station, WEAF. Hi, Jinx was the name of the show and as its popularity grew, McCrary taught Falkenburg how to interview.

As you know, people still love getting the dirt on famous people. It may be because the public holds these celebrities to a higher standard or it could be jealousy, which makes people happy to see that even the rich and famous have problems. As long as there have been celebrities, there have been others who have ridden on their coattails, either for good or bad, as their claim to fame.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gunsmoke-An Old Time Radio Classic

This was an old time radio show classic and is considered one of the best radio shows of any kind. The radio version was created in 1952, by writer John Meston and director Norman MacDonnell. The chairman of CBS, William S Paley was a huge fan of the radio serial, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. He asked Hubell Robinson to come up with a Western series that could be, "Philip Marlowe of the Old West."

Robinson then instructed Harry Ackerman, who had originally come up with the Philip Marlowe series, and was also CBS vice president of the West Coast, to work on this show. An audition script was written by Ackerman and two of his script writers, David Friedkin and Mort Fine, called,"Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye." Two auditions were tested, with the first one being more like a hard-core detective series and Marshall Dillon was played by Michael Rye. The second audition was more of a Western with the script lightened up a bit and Marshall Dillon was played by Howard Culver. The latter was preferred by CBS and Ackerman continued working on the show.

Because Culver was working on another Western at the time, his contract stated that he was not allowed to work on another Western series. Ackerman put the project on the shelf and forgot about it. Meston and MacDonnell discovered the script while they were in the process of creating a Western series that was geared towards adults. They did not want to create such juvenile fare as, The Cisco Kid or The Lone Ranger. This show became known as, "Gunsmoke."

There were many people who auditioned for the role of Marshall Dillon and William Conrad was one of the last people to audition. Because of William Conrad's powerful voice, he was very busy in the medium of radio. MacDonnell was not quite sure whether Conrad was the right fit for the character, however, he quickly changed his mind after hearing Conrad read a couple lines. His portrayal of Dylan as a lonely man, who became tough because of his hard life, was perfect for the kind of adult series this was going to be.

Dodge City, Kansas
The Town Gunsmoke was Based On

The show actually evolved as the actors who portrayed the characters settled into their roles. Each actor in the radio series brought a bit of themselves into the character, allowing the writers to expand upon each character and draw the listener into the story even more. Meston hated how many Western fiction writers trivialized the brutality of the true Old West. He wanted to create a show that exposed the brutality and the violence of the old West.

Sound engineers Ray Kemper, and Tom Hanley, 
along with producer/director Norman Macdonnell.
In the early years of Gunsmoke, good did not always prevail over evil and sometimes, Marshall Dillon lost. There was no other show on the radio that exposed such controversial content, such as, Indian scalpings, opium addicts and violent crimes. Another thing that made Gunsmoke better than many other old time radio shows was the superb sound effects.

The radio version ran until 1961. The TV series started in 1955 and ran all the way until  March of 1975. William Conrad was not even considered for the TV series because of his weight. Meston continued to write the television scripts and many of the TV episodes use the exact scenes and dialogues from the radio shows. In the television series of Gunsmoke, some of the character's personalities had to be lightened up a bit. By the end of the television series and, Miss Kitty was no longer seen as a prostitute, but instead, just a kind and bighearted businesswoman

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Rise And Fall Of The Soap Opera On Old Time Radio

As radios became more prevalent in homes during the 1930's, businesses realized the potential to gain new customers using this medium for advertising. The networks realized that the man of the house would be working, the children at school and the housewife was in the home, listening to the radio, as she did her housework. The advertisers realized that the housewife could be a huge marketing force, therefore, these daytime radio shows and advertisements were produced with her in mind.

National Photo Company Collection,
 Prints and Photographs Division.
The first soap opera was created in 1930 and it was, Clara, Lu, and Em. It got its start as a sorority sketch that was written by three friends, Helen King (Em), Isobel Carothers (Lu), and Louise Starkey (Clara). Many of their friends told them that they should take the show to radio. WGN took on the show and the girls did the first few shows without getting paid. It wasn't long before Colgate-Palmolive became interested and started sponsoring the show. It was broadcast in the evening and then, moved to daytime radio in 1932.

The soap opera was most often defined by the sponsors, which mostly consisted of household products. These were geared towards the housewife. Soap operas are very often, associated with women and have a reputation of gaudiness. However, the listener needed a good deal of knowledge to follow some of these complex storylines.

Courtesy of Chuck Schaden Radio Collection
A soap opera consists of a series that has a storyline that continues on a day-to-day basis and there are usually a few storylines going at one time. A woman, Anne Schumacher, who was working for advertising executive, Edward Frank Hummert (Frank), recognized that women staying at home were the main decision makers of which household products to buy and that writing stories for the housewife, who could listen to these stories during the day, was an untapped market. Schumacher and her husband, John Ashenhurst came up with the serial, Just Plain Bill, who was a barber who married above his station, which was a success. They then produced, Ma Perkins and Backstage Wife.

Schumacher and Ashenhurst divorced and it was about the same time that Hummert's wife died. This left both Anne and Frank single and they soon began a relationship that led to marriage in 1935. The formula for most soap operas was perfected by this husband and wife team. They began a production company called, Air Features Inc., which churned out other daytime serials, such as, Stella Dallas, John's Other Wife and Young Widder Brown.

Irna Phillips
Another woman by the name of Irna Phillips created the Guiding Light in 1937. This was one of the longest running soap operas of all time and made the successful transition to television. Irna Phillips created the techniques that many take for granted in soap operas today, such as, cliffhangers and the organ music that bridges scenes.

Radio soap operas became a part of American culture, but in 1960, many of the radio soap operas were cancelled, as television became the new medium for the American public. Soap operas made the transition to daytime television and were successful for many more years.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interesting Findings

While on my search for old time radio shows, I sometimes come across an interesting find. I search the public domain records for lost recordings of radio shows and events. Naturally, I am bound to find things that have to do with the radio world, but are not old time radio shows.

As I find new things, I will put the links in this article. You can check these things out and let me know if you find these things as interesting as I do. It takes a lot of time to search the public domain and to copy these files. Please leave your comments and let me know if you enjoy these findings.

The first link is for a magazine that was published in 1926, called Talking Machine World.  After World War I ended in 1918, radio stations were given back to civilians. The phonograph and radio were becoming a more common fixture in most homes and many Americans owned one.

You can check out the advertising methods that were used back in this time and see the latest innovations in the radio and phonograph business. Go to and check out pages from this magazine that were published throughout the year 1926.

old time radio magazine
Talking Machine World Magazine from 1926

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Space Race

Space Race On Old Time Radio
There are some great recordings that were captured as the United States made its way into outer space. In the late 1950's, the Soviet Union and the United States were competing in the "Space Race." The Soviet Union beat the United States into space two times. The first time was when they successfully launched the first satellite into space, which was Sputnik 1 and then again in 1961, when Yuri Gagarin was launched into space.

You can listen in on the Mercury Redstone 3 countdown, liftoff and mission. CBS made a radio report later in the week, describing the event. You can check out a few of the other Mercury missions, as well.

There are also, recordings of the most memorable moments of the United State's entry into outer space. You can hear John F. Kennedy's reaction to the delays that were encountered during Mercury-Atlas 6 flight, before take-off, when astronaut John Glenn successfully orbited the Earth.

On January 27, 1967, the crew of Apollo 1 were conducting a launch simulation when an electrical fire broke out in the capsule. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White were trapped and killed in the fire. The Apollo capsule was redesigned and other safety protocols were put into place.

You will also be able to listen in to the historic Apollo 11 flight, which put the first man on the moon. Relive these historical moments of the United States and all of the human race.

Check out: