Old-time radio
Old-Time Radio and the Golden Age of Radio refer to a period of radio programming
Radio programming
Radio programming is the Broadcast programming of a Radio format or content that is organized for Commercial broadcasting and Public broadcasting radio stations....

 in the United States lasting from the proliferation of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s until television's replacement of radio as the primary home entertainment medium in the 1950s. During this period, when radio was dominant and the airwaves were filled with a variety of radio formats and genres, people regularly tuned in to their favorite radio programs. In fact, according to a 1947 C. E. Hooper
C. E. Hooper
The C. E. Hooper Company was an American company which measured radio and television ratings during the "Golden Age" of radio. Founded in 1935, the company provided information on the most popular radio shows of the era...

 survey, 82 out of 100 Americans were found to be radio listeners.


The broadcasts of live drama, comedy, music and news that characterize the Golden Age of Radio had a precedent in the Théâtrophone
Théâtrophone was a telephonic distribution system that allowed the subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over the telephone lines. The théâtrophone evolved from a Clément Ader invention, which was first demonstrated in 1881, in Paris...

, commercially introduced in Paris in 1890 and available as late as 1932. It allowed subscribers to eavesdrop on live stage performances and hear news reports by means of a network of telephone lines. The development of radio eliminated the wires and subscription charges from this concept.

On Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

 1906, Reginald Fessenden
Reginald Fessenden
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden , a naturalized American citizen born in Canada, was an inventor who performed pioneering experiments in radio, including early—and possibly the first—radio transmissions of voice and music...

 is said to have broadcast the first radio program, consisting of some violin playing and passages from the Bible. While Fessenden's role as an inventor and early radio experimenter is not in dispute, several contemporary radio researchers have questioned whether the Christmas Eve broadcast took place, or whether the date was in fact several weeks earlier. The first apparent published reference to the event was made in 1928 by H.P. Davis, Vice President of Westinghouse
Westinghouse Electric (1886)
Westinghouse Electric was an American manufacturing company. It was founded in 1886 as Westinghouse Electric Company and later renamed Westinghouse Electric Corporation by George Westinghouse. The company purchased CBS in 1995 and became CBS Corporation in 1997...

, in a lecture given at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

. In 1932 Fessenden cited the Chistmas Eve 1906 broadcast event in a letter he wrote to Vice President S.M. Kinter of Westinghouse. Fessenden's wife Helen recounts the broadcast in her book Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows published in 1940, eight years after Fessenden's death. The issue of whether the 1906 Fessenden broadcast actually happened is discussed in Halper and Sterling's article "Seeking the Truth About Fessenden" and also in James O'Neal's essays. An annotated argument supporting Fessenden as the world's first radio broadcaster was offered in 2006 by Cambridge University educated Dr. John S. Belrose, Radioscientist Emeritus at the Communications Research Centre Canada, in his essay entitled "Fessenden's 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast."

It was not until after the Titanic catastrophe in 1912 that radio for mass communication came into vogue, inspired first by the work of amateur (or "ham") radio operators. Radio was especially important during World War I as it was vital for air and naval operations. World War I brought about major developments in radio, superseding the Morse code
Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...

 of the wireless telegraph with the vocal communication of the wireless telephone, through advancements in vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

 technology and the introduction of the transceiver
A transceiver is a device comprising both a transmitter and a receiver which are combined and share common circuitry or a single housing. When no circuitry is common between transmit and receive functions, the device is a transmitter-receiver. The term originated in the early 1920s...


After the war, numerous radio stations were born in the United States and set the standard for later radio programs. The first radio news program was broadcast on August 31, 1920 on the station 8MK
WWJ is Detroit, Michigan's only 24-hour all-news radio station. Broadcasting at 950 kHz, the station is owned and operated by CBS Corporation subsidiary CBS Radio. The station first went on the air on August 20, 1920 with the call sign 8MK...

 in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit, Michigan
Detroit is the major city among the primary cultural, financial, and transportation centers in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. As the seat of Wayne County, the city of Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and serves as a major port on the Detroit River...

; owned by the Detroit News, the station covered local election results. This was followed in 1920 with the first commercial radio station in the United States, KDKA
KDKA is a radio station licensed to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Created by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation on November 2, 1920, it is one of the world's first modern radio stations , a distinction that has also been challenged by other stations, although it has claimed to be the first in...

, being established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Allegheny County. Regionally, it anchors the largest urban area of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley, and nationally, it is the 22nd-largest urban area in the United States...

. The first regular entertainment programs were broadcast in 1922, and on March 10, Variety carried the front page headline: "Radio Sweeping Country: 1,000,000 Sets in Use." A highlight of this time was the first Rose Bowl
Rose Bowl Game
The Rose Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game, usually played on January 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. When New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the game is played on Monday, January 2...

 being broadcast on January 1, 1923 on the Los Angeles station KHJ
KHJ Radio in Los Angeles, California broadcasts Spanish-language entertainment programming as La Ranchera. It was also one of America's most formidable Top 40 radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s as 93 KHJ before changing its format in 1980....


Types of programs

During the Golden Age of Radio, radio featured genres and formats popular in other forms of American entertainment—adventure, comedy, drama, horror, mystery, musical variety, romance, thrillers—along with classical music concerts, big band remote
Big band remote
A big band remote was a remote broadcast, popular on radio during the 1930s and 1940s, involving a coast-to-coast live transmission of a big band.As early as 1923, listeners could tune in The Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra...

s, farm reports, news and commentary, panel discussions, quiz shows (beginning with Professor Quiz
Professor Quiz
Professor Quiz was radio's first true quiz program, broadcast with many different sponsors from 1936 to 1948 on CBS and ABC. The program featured Professor Quiz, his wife Betty and his son, Professor Quiz Jr...

), sidewalk interviews (on Vox Pop
Vox Pop (radio)
Vox Pop was a popular radio program of interviews, quizzes and human interest features, sometimes titled Sidewalk Interviews and Voice of the People...

), broadcasts, talent shows and weather forecasts.

In the late 1920s, the sponsored musical feature was the most popular program format. Commercial messages were regarded as intrusive, so these shows usually displayed the sponsor's name in the title, as evidenced by such programs as The A&P Gypsies
The A&P Gypsies
The A&P Gypsies was a musical series broadcast on radio beginning in 1924. With the opening theme of "Two Guitars," the host and band leader was Harry Horlick, who had learned gypsy folk music while traveling with gypsy bands in Istanbul....

, Acousticon Hour
Acousticon Hour
Acousticon Hour was a "musicale" radio program aired during 1927 and 1928 on NBC. It offered selections from classical music, orchestral favorites, operas and operettas.-History:...

, Champion Spark Plug Hour
Champion Spark Plug Hour
Champion Spark Plug Hour was a music radio program sponsored by Champion. It was broadcast on New York's WJZ and WGY during the late 1920s and early 1930s. An entry in The Chronicle-Telegram for October 4, 1926, indicates the show aired on Tuesday afternoons at 5:00pm...

, The Clicquot Club Eskimos
The Clicquot Club Eskimos
The Clicquot Club Eskimos was a popular musical variety radio show, first heard in 1923, featuring a banjo orchestra directed by Harry Reser. A popular ginger ale, Clicquot Club, was Canada Dry's main rival...

, The Flit Soldiers, The Fox Fur Trappers, The Goodrich Zippers, The Ingram Shavers, The Ipana Troubadors
The Ipana Troubadors
The Ipana Troubadors was a musical variety radio program which began in New York on WEAF in 1923. In actuality, the Troubadors were the Sam Lanin Orchestra...

, The Planters Pickers, The Silvertown Cord Orchestra (featuring the Silver Masked Tenor), The Sylvania Foresters, The Yeast Foamers, King Biscuit Time
King Biscuit Time
King Biscuit Time is the longest-running daily American radio broadcasts in history. The program is broadcast each weekday from KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, United States and has won the George Foster Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence and is currently broadcast from the KFFA studio located in...

(with Sonny Boy Williamson
Sonny Boy Williamson
Sonny Boy Williamson may refer to either of two 20th-century American blues harmonica players, who both recorded in Chicago:*Sonny Boy Williamson I , John Lee Curtis Williamson, "The Original Sonny Boy Williamson", born in Tennessee and associated with Bluebird Records *Sonny Boy Williamson II ,...

), The Health and Happiness Radio Show (with Hank Williams) and the Light Crust Doughboys (with Bob Wills
Bob Wills
James Robert Wills , better known as Bob Wills, was an American Western Swing musician, songwriter, and bandleader, considered by music authorities as the co-founder of Western Swing and universally known as the pioneering King of Western Swing.Bob Wills' name will forever be associated with...

 and Milton Brown
Milton Brown
Milton Brown was an American band leader and vocalist who co-founded the genre of Western swing. His band was the first to fuse hillbilly hokum, jazz, and pop together into a unique, distinctly American hybrid, thus giving him the nickname, "Father of Western Swing"...

). During the 1930s and 1940s, the leading orchestras were heard often through big band remotes, and NBC's Monitor
Monitor (NBC Radio)
NBC Monitor was an American weekend radio program broadcast from June 12, 1955, until January 26, 1975. Airing live and nationwide on the NBC Radio Network, it originally aired beginning Saturday morning at 8am and continuing through the weekend until 12 midnight on Sunday...

continued such remotes well into the 1950s by broadcasting live music from New York City jazz clubs to rural America.

Classical music
Classical music
Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times...

 programs on the air included The Voice of Firestone
The Voice of Firestone
The Voice of Firestone, is a long-running radio and television program of classical music. The show featured leading singers in selections from opera and operetta. Originally titled The Firestone Hour, it was first broadcast on the NBC Radio network December 3, 1928 and was later also shown on...

and The Bell Telephone Hour
The Bell Telephone Hour
The Bell Telephone Hour is a long-run concert series which began April 29, 1940 on NBC Radio and was heard on NBC until June 30, 1958. Sponsored by Bell Telephone, it showcased the best in classical and Broadway music, reaching eight to nine million listeners each week. It continued on television...

. Texaco
Texaco is the name of an American oil retail brand. Its flagship product is its fuel "Texaco with Techron". It also owns the Havoline motor oil brand....

 sponsored the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts
Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts
The Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts are a regular series of weekly broadcasts on network radio of full-length opera performances. They are transmitted live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City...

; the broadcasts, now sponsored by the Toll Brothers
Toll Brothers
Toll Brothers is a Horsham, Pennsylvania based luxury homes builder.-Company Overview:Toll Brothers is a residential and commercial real estate development company with communities in 50 markets throughout 19 states...

, continue to this day around the world, and are one of the few examples of live classical music still broadcast on radio. One of the most notable of all classical music radio programs of the Golden Age of Radio featured the celebrated Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor. One of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th century, he was renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory...

 conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra
NBC Symphony Orchestra
The NBC Symphony Orchestra was a radio orchestra established by David Sarnoff of the National Broadcasting Company especially for conductor Arturo Toscanini...

, which had been created especially for him. At that time, nearly all classical musicians and critics considered Toscanini the greatest living maestro. Popular songwriters were also featured on radio, such as George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known...

, who in addition to appearing as a guest, also had his own program in 1934. The New York Philharmonic
New York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic is a symphony orchestra based in New York City in the United States. It is one of the American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five"...

 also had weekly concerts on radio. There was no dedicated classical music radio station like NPR
NPR, formerly National Public Radio, is a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States. NPR was created in 1970, following congressional passage of the Public Broadcasting...

 at that time, so classical music programs had to share the network they were broadcast on with more popular ones, much as in the days of television before the creation of NET
National Educational Television
National Educational Television was an American non-commercial educational public television network in the United States from May 16, 1954 to October 4, 1970...

 and PBS.

Country music
Country music
Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

 also enjoyed popularity. National Barn Dance
National Barn Dance
National Barn Dance, broadcast by WLS-AM in Chicago, Illinois starting in 1924, was one of the first American country music radio programs and a direct precursor of the Grand Ole Opry...

, begun on Chicago's WLS
WLS is a Chicago clear-channel AM station on 890 kHz. It uses C-QUAM AM stereo and transmits with 50,000 watts from transmitter and towers on the south edge of Tinley Park, Illinois....

 in 1924, was picked up by NBC Radio
NBC Red Network
The NBC Red Network was one of the two original radio networks of the National Broadcasting Company. After NBC was required to divest itself of its Blue Network , the Red Network continued as the NBC Radio Network.It, along with the Blue Network, were the first two commercial radio networks in the...

 in 1933. In 1925, WSM
WSM is the callsign of a 50,000 watt AM radio station located in Nashville, Tennessee. Operating at 650 kHz, its clear channel signal can reach much of North America and various countries, especially late at night...

 Barn Dance
went on the air from Nashville. It was renamed the Grand Ole Opry
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, that has presented the biggest stars of that genre since 1925. It is also among the longest-running broadcasts in history since its beginnings as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM-AM...

in 1927 and NBC carried portions from 1944 to 1956. NBC also aired The Red Foley
Red Foley
Clyde Julian Foley , better known as Red Foley, was an American singer, musician, and radio and TV personality who made a major contribution to the growth of country music after World War II....

from 1951–1961, and ABC Radio carried Ozark Jubilee
Ozark Jubilee
Ozark Jubilee is the first U.S. network television program to feature country music's top stars, and was the centerpiece of a strategy for Springfield, Missouri to challenge Nashville, Tennessee as America's country music capital...

from 1953 to 1961.

Top comedy talents surfed the airwaves for many years: Fred Allen
Fred Allen
Fred Allen was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed radio show made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the so-called classic era of American radio.His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny, but it...

, Jack Benny
Jack Benny
Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, and actor for radio, television, and film...

, Victor Borge
Victor Borge
Victor Borge ,born Børge Rosenbaum, was a Danish comedian, conductor and pianist, affectionately known as The Clown Prince of Denmark,The Unmelancholy Dane,and The Great Dane.-Early life and career:...

, Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice was a popular and influential American illustrated song "model," comedienne, singer, theatre and film actress, who made many stage, radio and film appearances and is known as the creator and star of the top-rated radio comedy series, The Baby Snooks Show...

, Billie Burke
Billie Burke
Mary William Ethelbert Appleton "Billie" Burke was an American actress. She is primarily known to modern audiences as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the musical film The Wizard of Oz. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Emily Kilbourne in Merrily We Live...

, Bob Burns, Judy Canova
Judy Canova
Judy Canova , born Juliette Canova, was an American comedienne, actress, singer and radio personality. She appeared on Broadway and in films...

, Jimmy Durante
Jimmy Durante
James Francis "Jimmy" Durante was an American singer, pianist, comedian and actor. His distinctive clipped gravelly speech, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose helped make him one of America's most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s...

, Phil Harris
Phil Harris
Harris and Faye married in 1941; it was a second marriage for both and lasted 54 years, until Harris's death. Harris engaged in a fistfight at the Trocadero nightclub in 1938 with RKO studio mogul Bob Stevens; the cause was reported to be over Faye after Stevens and Faye had ended a romantic...

, Bob Hope
Bob Hope
Bob Hope, KBE, KCSG, KSS was a British-born American comedian and actor who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio, television and movies. He was also noted for his work with the US Armed Forces and his numerous USO shows entertaining American military personnel...

, Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was an American comedian and film star famed as a master of wit. His rapid-fire delivery of innuendo-laden patter earned him many admirers. He made 13 feature films with his siblings the Marx Brothers, of whom he was the third-born...

, Jean Shepherd
Jean Shepherd
Jean Parker Shepherd was an American raconteur, radio and TV personality, writer and actor who was often referred to by the nickname Shep....

, Red Skelton
Red Skelton
Richard Bernard "Red" Skelton was an American comedian who is best known as a top radio and television star from 1937 to 1971. Skelton's show business career began in his teens as a circus clown and went on to vaudeville, Broadway, films, radio, TV, night clubs and casinos, all while pursuing...

 and Ed Wynn
Ed Wynn
Ed Wynn was a popular American comedian and actor noted for his Perfect Fool comedy character, his pioneering radio show of the 1930s, and his later career as a dramatic actor....

. More laughter was generated on such shows as Abbott and Costello
Abbott and Costello
William "Bud" Abbott and Lou Costello performed together as Abbott and Costello, an American comedy duo whose work on stage, radio, film and television made them the most popular comedy team during the 1940s and 1950s...

, Amos 'n' Andy
Amos 'n' Andy
Amos 'n' Andy is a situation comedy set in the African-American community. It was very popular in the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s on both radio and television....

, Burns and Allen
Burns and Allen
Burns and Allen, an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen, worked together as a comedy team in vaudeville, films, radio and television and achieved great success over four decades.-Vaudeville:...

, Easy Aces
Easy Aces
Easy Aces, a long-running American serial radio comedy , was trademarked by the low-keyed drollery of creator and writer Goodman Ace and his wife, Jane, as an urbane, put-upon realtor and his malaprop-prone wife...

, Ethel and Albert
Ethel and Albert
Ethel and Albert was a radio and television comedy series about a married couple, Ethel and Albert Arbuckle, living in the small town of Sandy Harbor...

, Fibber McGee and Molly
Fibber McGee and Molly
Fibber McGee and Molly was an American radio comedy series which maintained its popularity over decades. It premiered on NBC in 1935 and continued until its demise in 1959, long after radio had ceased to be the dominant form of entertainment in American popular culture.-Husband and wife in real...

, The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs is a comedy-drama broadcast from 1929 to 1946 on American radio, and from 1949 to 1956 on American television. It was adapted into a 1948 play, Me and Molly, and a 1973 Broadway musical, Molly.-Radio:...

, The Great Gildersleeve
The Great Gildersleeve
The Great Gildersleeve , initially written by Leonard Lewis Levinson, was one of broadcast history's earliest spin-off programs. Built around Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, a character who had been a staple on the classic radio situation comedy Fibber McGee and Molly, first Introduced to...

, The Halls of Ivy
The Halls of Ivy
The Halls of Ivy is an NBC radio sitcom that ran from 1950-1952. It was created by Fibber McGee & Molly co-creator/writer Don Quinn before being adapted into a CBS television comedy produced by ITC Entertainment and Television Programs of America...

(which featured screen star Ronald Colman
Ronald Colman
Ronald Charles Colman was an English actor.-Early years:He was born in Richmond, Surrey, England, the second son and fourth child of Charles Colman and his wife Marjory Read Fraser. His siblings included Eric, Edith, and Marjorie. He was educated at boarding school in Littlehampton, where he...

 and his wife Benita Hume
Benita Hume
Benita Hume was an English film actress. She appeared in 44 films between 1925 and 1955.She was married to actor Ronald Colman from 1938 to his death in 1958; they were the parents of a daughter, Juliet...

), Meet Corliss Archer
Meet Corliss Archer
Meet Corliss Archer, a program from radio's Golden Age, ran from January 7, 1943 to September 30, 1956. Although it was CBS's answer to NBC's popular A Date with Judy, it was also broadcast by NBC in 1948 as a summer replacement for The Bob Hope Show. From October 3, 1952 to June 26, 1953, it aired...

, Meet Millie
Meet Millie
Meet Millie, a situation comedy about a wisecracking Manhattan secretary from Brooklyn, made a transition from radio to television in the early 1950s. In the live television version, Mom and Millie were living in Jackson Heights, Queens...

, and Our Miss Brooks
Our Miss Brooks
Our Miss Brooks is an American situation comedy starring Eve Arden as a sardonic high school English teacher. It began as a radio show broadcast on CBS from 1948 to 1957. When the show was adapted to television , it became one of the medium's earliest hits...


Radio comedy ran the gamut from the small town humor of Lum and Abner
Lum and Abner
Lum and Abner was an American radio comedy network program created by Chester Lauck and Norris Goff that aired from 1931 to 1954. Modeled on life in the small town of Waters, Arkansas, near where Lauck and Goff grew up, the showed proved immensely popular...

, Herb Shriner
Herb Shriner
Herbert Arthur "Herb" Shriner was an American humorist, radio personality and television host. Shriner was known for his homespun monologues, usually about his home state of Indiana...

 and Minnie Pearl
Minnie Pearl
Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon , known professionally as Minnie Pearl, was an American country comedienne who appeared at the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years and on the television show Hee Haw from 1969 to 1991.-Early life:Sarah Colley was born in Centerville, in Hickman County, Tennessee,...

 to the dialect characterizations of Mel Blanc
Mel Blanc
Melvin Jerome "Mel" Blanc was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best remembered for his work with Warner Bros...

 and the caustic sarcasm of Henry Morgan
Henry Morgan (comedian)
Henry Morgan was an American humorist. He is remembered best in two modern media: radio, on which he first became familiar as a barbed but often self-deprecating satirist, and on television, where he was a regular and cantankerous panelist for the game show I've Got a Secret...

. Gags galore were delivered weekly on Stop Me If You've Heard This One
Stop Me If You've Heard This One
Stop Me If You've Heard This One was a comedy radio series, created by the actor-humorist Cal Tinney and sponsored by Quaker Oats. Hosted by Milton Berle, it aired Saturday evenings at 8:30pm on NBC beginning October 7, 1939.-Production history:The premise was that listeners received prizes for...

and Can You Top This?
Can You Top This?
Can You Top This? was a popular radio panel show in which comedians told jokes. The unrehearsed program, sponsored at one point by Colgate-Palmolive, was created by veteran vaudevillian "Senator" Edward Ford, who claimed he was taking part in a joke session at a New York theatrical club when he...

, http://www.museum.tv/rhofsection.php?page=274 panel programs devoted to the art of telling jokes. Quiz shows were lampooned on It Pays to Be Ignorant
It Pays to Be Ignorant
It Pays to Be Ignorant was a radio comedy show which maintained its popularity during a nine-year run on three networks for such sponsors as Philip Morris, Chrysler, and DeSoto....

, and other memorable parodies were presented by such satirists as Spike Jones
Spike Jones
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Brothers cartoon characters, performed a drunken, hiccuping verse for 1942's "Clink! Clink! Another Drink"...

, Stoopnagle and Budd
Stoopnagle and Budd
Stoopnagle and Budd were a popular radio comedy team of the 1930s, who are sometimes cited as forerunners of the Bob and Ray style of radio comedy...

, Stan Freberg
Stan Freberg
Stanley Victor "Stan" Freberg is an American author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer, and advertising creative director whose career began in 1944...

 and Bob and Ray
Bob and Ray
Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were an American comedy team whose career spanned five decades. Their format was typically to satirize the medium in which they were performing, such as conducting radio or television interviews, with off-the-wall dialogue presented in a generally deadpan style as...

. British comedy reached American shores in a major assault when NBC carried The Goon Show
The Goon Show
The Goon Show was a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme...

in the mid-1950s.
Some shows originated as stage productions: Clifford Goldsmith's play What a Life was reworked into NBC's popular, long-running The Aldrich Family
The Aldrich Family
The Aldrich Family, a popular radio teenage situation comedy , was also presented in films, television and comic books. In the radio series' well-remembered weekly opening exchange, awkward teen Henry's mother called, "Hen-reeeeeeeeeeeee! Hen-ree Al-drich!", and he responded with a breaking...

(1939–1953) with the familiar catchphrases "Henry! Henry Aldrich!," followed by Henry's answer, "Coming, Mother!" Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit, You Can't Take It with You
You Can't Take It with You
You Can't Take It with You is a comedic play in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The original production of the play opened at the Booth Theater on December 14, 1936, and played for 837 performances...

(1936), became a weekly situation comedy heard on Mutual (1944) with Everett Sloane and later on NBC (1951) with Walter Brennan
Walter Brennan
Walter Brennan was an American actor. Brennan won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on three separate occasions, which is currently the record for most wins.-Early life:...


Other shows were adapted from comic strips, such as Blondie
Blondie (comic strip)
Blondie is an American comic strip created by cartoonist Chic Young. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, the strip has been published in newspapers since September 8, 1930...

, Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy is a comic strip featuring Dick Tracy, a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and intelligent police detective. Created by Chester Gould, the strip made its debut on October 4, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror. It was distributed by the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate...

, Gasoline Alley
Gasoline Alley
Gasoline Alley is a comic strip created by Frank King and currently distributed by Tribune Media Services. First published November 24, 1918, it is the second longest running comic strip in the US and has received critical accolades for its influential innovations...

, The Gumps
The Gumps
The Gumps, a popular comic strip about a middle-class family, was created by Sidney Smith in 1917, launching a 42-year run in newspapers from February 12, 1917 until October 17, 1959....

, Li'l Abner
Li'l Abner
Li'l Abner is a satirical American comic strip that appeared in many newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the impoverished town of Dogpatch, Kentucky. Written and drawn by Al Capp , the strip ran for 43 years, from August 13, 1934 through...

, Little Orphan Annie
Little Orphan Annie
Little Orphan Annie was a daily American comic strip created by Harold Gray and syndicated by Tribune Media Services. The strip took its name from the 1885 poem "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley, and made its debut on August 5, 1924 in the New York Daily News...

, Popeye the Sailor
Popeye the Sailor is a cartoon fictional character created by Elzie Crisler Segar, who has appeared in comic strips and animated cartoons in the cinema as well as on television. He first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929...

, Red Ryder
Red Ryder
Red Ryder was a popular long-running Western comic strip created by Stephen Slesinger and artist Fred Harman. Beginning Sunday, November 6, 1938, Red Ryder was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association, expanding over the following decade to 750 newspapers, translations into ten languages and...

, Reg'lar Fellers
Reg'lar Fellers
Reg'lar Fellers was a long-run newspaper comic strip adapted into a feature film, a radio series on NBC and an animated cartoon. Created by Gene Byrnes , the comic strip offered a humorous look at a gang of suburban children...

, Terry and the Pirates
Terry and the Pirates (radio serial)
Terry and the Pirates was a radio serial adapted from the comic strip of the same name created in 1934 by Milton Caniff. With storylines of action, high adventure and foreign intrigue, the popular radio series entralled listeners from 1937 through 1948...

and Tillie the Toiler
Tillie the Toiler
Tillie the Toiler was a newspaper comic strip created by cartoonist Russ Westover who initially worked on his concept of a flapper character in a strip he titled Rose of the Office...

. Bob Montana's redheaded teen of comic strips and comic books was heard on radio's Archie Andrews
Archie Andrews (comics)
Archie Andrews, created in 1941 by Vic Bloom and Bob Montana, is a fictional character in an American comic book series published by Archie Comics, as well as the long-running Archie Andrews radio series, a syndicated comic strip, The Archie Show, and Archie's Weird Mysteries.-Character and...

from 1943 to 1953. The Timid Soul was a 1941–1942 comedy based on cartoonist H. T. Webster's famed Casper Milquetoast character, and Robert L. Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Ripley's Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims...

 was adapted to several different radio formats during the 1930s and 1940s.

The first soap opera
Soap opera
A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble,...

, Clara, Lu, and Em
Clara, Lu, and Em
Clara, Lu, and Em was radio's first network daytime soap opera, beginning June 16, 1930 over WGN-AM Chicago, Illinois. It continued through the 1930s and early 1940s on the NBC Blue Network and CBS, finally airing as a syndicated series in 1945...

was introduced in 1930 on Chicago's WGN
WGN is a radio station in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It is the only radio station owned by the Tribune Company, which also owns the flagship television station WGN-TV, the Chicago Tribune newspaper and Chicago magazine locally. WGN's transmitter is located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois...

. When daytime serials began in the early 1930s, they became known as soap operas because many were sponsored by soap products and detergents. The line-up of late afternoon adventure serials included Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders, The Cisco Kid
The Cisco Kid
The Cisco Kid refers to a character found in numerous film, radio, television and comic book series based on the fictional Western character created by O. Henry in his 1907 short story "The Caballero's Way", published in the collection Heart of the West...

, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy
Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy
Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy was a radio adventure series which maintained its popularity from 1933 to 1951. The program originated at WBBM in Chicago on July 31, 1933, and was later carried on CBS, then NBC and finally ABC....

, Captain Midnight
Captain Midnight
Captain Midnight is a U.S. adventure franchise first broadcast as a radio serial from 1938 to 1949. Sponsored by the Skelly Oil Company, the radio program was the creation of radio scripters Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M...

, and The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Badges, rings, decoding devices and other radio premiums
Radio Premiums
During the time that radio programs were the dominant medium in the United States, some programs advertised "souvenirs" of the various shows, which were sometimes called radio premiums...

 offered on these adventure shows were often allied with a sponsor's product, requiring the young listeners to mail in a box top from a breakfast cereal or other proof of purchase
Proof of purchase
Proof of purchase is often required for sales promotions and manufacturer rebates as evidence that the customer purchased the product. When multiple purchases are required to redeem these rewards, it is referred to as a premium incentive or collector mechanic.Traditional proof of purchase systems...


Outstanding radio dramas were presented on such programs as 26 by Corwin
Norman Corwin
Norman Lewis Corwin was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing...

, NBC Short Story, Arch Oboler's Plays
Arch Oboler's Plays
Arch Oboler's Plays was a radio anthology series written, produced and directed by Arch Oboler. Minus a sponsor, it ran for one year, airing Saturday evenings on NBC from March 25, 1939 to March 23, 1940 and revived five years later on Mutual for a sustaining summer run from April 5, 1945 to...

, Quiet, Please
Quiet, Please
Quiet, Please! was a radio fantasy and horror program created by Wyllis Cooper, also known for creating Lights Out. Ernest Chappell was the show's announcer and lead actor. Quiet, Please! debuted June 8, 1947 on the Mutual Broadcasting System, and its last episode was broadcast June 25, 1949, on...

, and CBS Radio Workshop. Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

's Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse were considered by many critics to be the finest radio drama anthologies ever presented. They usually starred Welles in the leading role, along with celebrity guest stars such as Margaret Sullavan
Margaret Sullavan
Margaret Brooke Sullavan was an American stage and film actress. Sullavan started her career on the stage in 1929. In 1933 she caught the attention of movie director John M. Stahl and had her debut on the screen that same year in Only Yesterday...

 or Helen Hayes
Helen Hayes
Helen Hayes Brown was an American actress whose career spanned almost 70 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of the American Theatre" and was one of twelve people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award...

, in adaptations from literature, Broadway, and/or films. They included such titles as Liliom
Liliom is a 1909 play by the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. It was very famous in its own right during the early to mid-20th century, but is best known today as the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.- Plot :...

, Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress is the second novel by English author Charles Dickens, published by Richard Bentley in 1838. The story is about an orphan Oliver Twist, who endures a miserable existence in a workhouse and then is placed with an undertaker. He escapes and travels to...

(a title now feared lost), A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fictional literature....

, Lost Horizon, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons in June 1926 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company on the 19th of the same month. It features Hercule Poirot as the lead detective...

. It was on Mercury Theatre that Welles presented his celebrated-but-infamous adaptation of H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

's The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds (radio)
The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker...

, formatted to sound like a breaking news
Breaking news
Breaking news, also known as a special report or news bulletin, is a current event that broadcasters feel warrants the interruption of scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details. Many times, breaking news is used after the news network has already reported on this story...

 program. Theatre Guild on the Air presented adaptations of classical and Broadway plays. Their Shakespeare adaptations included a one-hour Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

starring Maurice Evans
Maurice Evans (actor)
Maurice Herbert Evans was an English actor noted for his interpretations of Shakespearean characters. In terms of his screen roles, he is probably best known as Dr...

 and Judith Anderson
Judith Anderson
Dame Judith Anderson, AC, DBE was an Australian-born American-based actress of stage, film and television. She won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award and was also nominated for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award.-Early life:...

, and a ninety-minute Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

, starring John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

. Many of these programs still survive.

During the 1940s, Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone
Sir Basil Rathbone, KBE, MC, Kt was an English actor. He rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films...

 and Nigel Bruce
Nigel Bruce
William Nigel Ernle Bruce , best known as Nigel Bruce, was a British character actor on stage and screen. He was best known for his portrayal of Doctor Watson in a series of films and in the radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...

, famous for playing Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The fantastic London-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to take almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve...

 and Doctor Watson in films, repeated their characterizations on radio on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was an old-time radio show which aired in the USA from October 2, 1939 to July 7, 1947. Most episodes were written by the team of Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher....

, which featured both original stories and episodes directly adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle DL was a Scottish physician and writer, most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, generally considered a milestone in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger...

's stories. None of the episodes in which Rathbone and Bruce starred on the radio program were filmed with the two actors as Holmes and Watson, so radio became the only medium in which audiences were able to experience Rathbone and Bruce appearing in some of the more famous Holmes stories, such as "The Speckled Band". There were also several dramatizations of Sherlock Holmes stories on radio without Rathbone and Bruce.

During the latter part of his career, celebrated actor John Barrymore
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

 starred in a radio program, Streamlined Shakespeare, which featured him in a series of one-hour adaptations of Shakespeare plays, many of which Barrymore never appeared in either on stage or in films, such as Twelfth Night (in which he played both Malvolio
Malvolio is the steward of Olivia's household in William Shakespeare's comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will.-Style:Malvolio's ethical values are commonly used to define his appearance.In the play, Malvolio is defined as a "kind of" Puritan...

 and Sir Toby Belch), and Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...


Lux Radio Theater
Lux Radio Theater
Lux Radio Theater, a long-run classic radio anthology series, was broadcast on the NBC Blue Network ; CBS and NBC . Initially, the series adapted Broadway plays during its first two seasons before it began adapting films. These hour-long radio programs were performed live before studio audiences...

and The Screen Guild Theater
The Screen Guild Theater
The Screen Guild Theater was a popular radio anthology series during the Golden Age of Radio, broadcast from 1939 until 1952, with leading Hollywood actors performing in adaptations of popular motion pictures such as Going My Way and The Postman Always Rings Twice.The show had a long run, lasting...

presented adaptations of Hollywood movies, performed before a live audience, usually with cast members from the original films. Suspense
Suspense (radio program)
-Production background:One of the premier drama programs of the Golden Age of Radio, was subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" and focused on suspense thriller-type scripts, usually featuring leading Hollywood actors of the era...

, Escape
Escape (radio program)
Escape was radio's leading anthology series of high-adventure radio dramas, airing on CBS from July 7, 1947 to September 25, 1954. Since the program did not have a regular sponsor like Suspense, it was subjected to frequent schedule shifts and lower production budgets, although Richfield Oil signed...

, The Mysterious Traveler
The Mysterious Traveler
The Mysterious Traveler was an anthology radio series, a magazine and a comic book. All three featured stories which ran the gamut from fantasy and science fiction to straight crime dramas of mystery and suspense.-Radio:...

and Inner Sanctum Mysteries
Inner Sanctum Mysteries
Inner Sanctum Mysteries, a popular old-time radio program that aired from January 7, 1941 to October 5, 1952, was created by producer Himan Brown. A total of 526 episodes were broadcast.-Horror hosts:...

were popular thriller anthology series. Leading writers who created original material for radio included Norman Corwin
Norman Corwin
Norman Lewis Corwin was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing...

, Carlton E. Morse
Carlton E. Morse
Carlton Errol Morse was a Louisiana-born producer/journalist best known for his creation of the radio serial One Man's Family, which debuted in 1932 and ran until 1959 as one of the most popular as well as long-running radio soap operas of the time. He also was responsible for the radio serial I...

, David Goodis
David Goodis
David Loeb Goodis was an American noir fiction writer.Born to a respectable Jewish family in Philadelphia, Goodis had two younger brothers, but one died of meningitis at the age of three...

, Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, writer, and the Librarian of Congress. He is associated with the Modernist school of poetry. He received three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.-Early years:...

, Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller
Arthur Asher Miller was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American theatre, writing dramas that include plays such as All My Sons , Death of a Salesman , The Crucible , and A View from the Bridge .Miller was often in the public eye,...

, Arch Oboler
Arch Oboler
Arch Oboler was an American actor, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer, and director who was active in radio, films, theater, and television. He generated much attention with his radio scripts, particularly the horror series Lights Out, and his work in radio remains the outstanding period...

, Wyllis Cooper
Wyllis Cooper
Wyllis Oswald Cooper was an American writer and producer.He is best remembered for creating and writing the old time radio programs Lights Out and Quiet, Please -Biography:...

, Rod Serling
Rod Serling
Rodman Edward "Rod" Serling was an American screenwriter, novelist, television producer, and narrator best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling was active in politics, both on and off the screen and helped form...

, Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett (author)
Jay Bennett was an American author and two-time winner of the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Bennett won the Edgar for Best Juvenile novel in 1974 and 1975, for The Long Black Coat and The Dangling Witness , respectively...

, and Irwin Shaw
Irwin Shaw
Irwin Shaw was a prolific American playwright, screenwriter, novelist, and short-story author whose written works have sold more than 14 million copies. He is best-known for his novel, The Young Lions about the fate of three soldiers during World War II that was made into a film starring Marlon...


Broadcast production methods

The RCA 44BX microphone had two live faces and two dead ones. Thus actors could face each other and react. An actor could give the effect of leaving the room by simply moving his head toward the dead face of the microphone. The scripts were paper-clipped together, and pages were dropped to the carpeted floor after use. Sometimes when reassembling a script to use it for the next time zone, some pages would be out of order or missing entirely.

Radio stations

In the beginning of the Golden Age, American radio network
Radio network
There are two types of radio networks currently in use around the world: the one-to-many broadcast type commonly used for public information and mass media entertainment; and the two-way type used more commonly for public safety and public services such as police, fire, taxicabs, and delivery...

 programs were almost exclusively broadcast live, as the national networks prohibited the airing of recorded programs until the late 1940s because of the inferior sound quality of phonograph discs, the only practical recording medium. As a result, prime-time shows would be performed twice, once for each coast. However, "reference recordings" were made of many programs as they were being broadcast, for review by the sponsor and for the network's own archival purposes. With the development of high-fidelity magnetic wire and tape recording in the years following World War II, the networks became more open to airing recorded programs and the prerecording of shows became more common.

Local stations, however, had always been free to use recordings and sometimes made substantial use of prerecorded syndicated programs distributed on pressed (as opposed to individually recorded) transcription discs.

Recording was done using a cutting lathe and acetate disc
Acetate disc
An acetate disc, also known as a test acetate, dubplate , lacquer , transcription disc or instantaneous disc...

s. Programs were normally recorded at 33 1/3 rpm on 16 inch discs, the standard format used for such "electrical transcriptions" from the early 1930s through the 1950s. Sometimes, the groove was cut starting at the inside of the disc and running to the outside. This was useful when the program to be recorded was longer than 15 minutes so required more than one disc side. By recording the first side outside in, the second inside out, and so on, the sound quality at the disc change-over points would match and result in a more seamless playback. An inside start also had the advantage that the thread of material cut from the disc's surface, which had to be kept out of the path of the cutting stylus, was naturally thrown toward the center of the disc so was automatically out of the way. When cutting an outside start disc, a brush could be used to keep it out of the way by sweeping it toward the middle of the disc. Well-equipped recording lathes used the vacuum from a water aspirator to pick it up as it was cut and deposit it in a water-filled bottle. In addition to convenience, this served a safety purpose, as the cellulose nitrate thread was highly flammable and a loose accumulation of it combusted violently if ignited.

Most recordings of radio broadcasts were made at a radio network
Radio network
There are two types of radio networks currently in use around the world: the one-to-many broadcast type commonly used for public information and mass media entertainment; and the two-way type used more commonly for public safety and public services such as police, fire, taxicabs, and delivery...

's studios, or at the facilities of a network-owned or affiliate
An affiliate is a commercial entity with a relationship with a peer or a larger entity.- Corporate structure :A corporation may be referred to as an affiliate of another when it is related to it but not strictly controlled by it, as with a subsidiary relationship, or when it is desired to avoid...

d station, which might have four or more lathes. A small local station often had none. Two lathes were required to capture a program longer than 15 minutes without losing parts of it while discs were flipped over or changed, along with a trained technician to operate them and monitor the recording while it was being made. However, some surviving recordings were produced by local stations.

When a substantial number of copies of an electrical transcription were required, as for the distribution of a syndicated program, they were produced by the same process used to make ordinary records. A master recording was cut, then electroplated to produce a stamper from which pressings in vinyl (or, in the case of transcription discs pressed before about 1935, shellac) were molded in a record press.

Armed Forces Radio Service

The Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) had its origins in the U.S. War Department
United States Department of War
The United States Department of War, also called the War Department , was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army...

's quest to improve troop morale. This quest began with short-wave broadcasts of educational and information programs to troops in 1940. In 1941, the War Department began issuing "Buddy Kits" (B-Kits) to departing troops, which comprised radios, 78 RPM records, and electrical transcription disks of radio shows. However, with the entrance of the United States into World War II, the War Department decided that it needed to improve the quality and quantity of its offerings.

This began with the broadcasting of its own original variety programs. Command Performance was the first of these, produced for the first time on March 1, 1942. On May 26, 1942, the Armed Forces Radio Service was formally established. Originally, its programming comprised network radio shows with the commercials removed. However, it soon began producing original programming, such as Mail Call
Mail Call
Mail Call was a television program appearing on the History Channel and hosted by R. Lee Ermey, a retired United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, . The show debuted on August 4, 2002 as part of the 'Fighting Fridays' lineup...

, G.I. Journal, Jubilee and G.I. Jive. At its peak in 1945, the Service produced around 20 hours of original programming each week.

After the war, the AFRS continued providing programming to troops in Europe. In addition, it also provided programming for future wars that the United States was involved in. It survives today as a component of the American Forces Network
American Forces Network
The American Forces Network is the brand name used by the United States Armed Forces American Forces Radio and Television Service for its entertainment and command internal information networks worldwide...


All of the shows aired by the AFRS during the Golden Age were recorded as electrical transcription disks, vinyl copies of which were shipped to stations overseas to be broadcast to the troops. People in the United States rarely ever heard programming from the AFRS, though AFRS recordings of Golden Age network shows were occasionally broadcast on some domestic stations beginning in the 1950s.

Home radio recordings in the United States

There was some home recording of radio broadcasts in the 1930s and 1940s. Examples from as early as 1930 have been documented. During these years, home recordings were made with disc recorders, most of which were only capable of storing about four minutes of a radio program on each side of a twelve-inch 78 rpm record. Most home recordings were made on even shorter-playing ten-inch or smaller discs. Some home disc recorders offered the option of the 33 1/3 rpm speed used for electrical transcriptions, allowing a recording more than twice as long to be made, although with reduced audio quality. Office dictation equipment was sometimes pressed into service for making recordings of radio broadcasts, but the audio quality of these devices was poor and the resulting recordings were in odd formats which had be played back on similar equipment. As a result of the expense of recorders and the limitations of the recording media, home recording of broadcasts was not common during this period and it was usually limited to brief excerpts.

The lack of suitable home recording equipment was somewhat relieved in 1947 with the availability of magnetic wire recorders
Wire recording
Wire recording is a type of analog audio storage in which a magnetic recording is made on thin steel or stainless steel wire.The wire is pulled rapidly across a recording head which magnetizes each point along the wire in accordance with the intensity and polarity of the electrical audio signal...

 for domestic use. These were capable of recording an hour-long broadcast on a single small spool of wire, and if a high-quality radio's audio output was recorded directly, rather than by holding a microphone up to its speaker, the recorded sound quality was very good. However, because the wire cost money and, like magnetic tape
Magnetic tape
Magnetic tape is a medium for magnetic recording, made of a thin magnetizable coating on a long, narrow strip of plastic. It was developed in Germany, based on magnetic wire recording. Devices that record and play back audio and video using magnetic tape are tape recorders and video tape recorders...

, could be repeatedly re-used to make new recordings, only a few complete broadcasts appear to have survived on this medium. In fact, there was little home recording of complete radio programs until the early 1950s, when increasingly affordable reel-to-reel tape recorders for home use were introduced to the market.

Electrical transcription disks

Before about 1950, when radio networks and local stations wanted to preserve a live broadcast, they did so by means of special phonograph records
Gramophone record
A gramophone record, commonly known as a phonograph record , vinyl record , or colloquially, a record, is an analog sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove...

 known as "electrical transcriptions" (ETs), made by cutting a sound-modulated groove into a blank disk. At first, in the early 1930s, the blanks varied in both size and composition, but most often they were simply bare aluminum and the groove was indented rather than cut. Typically, these very early recordings were not made by the network or radio station, but by a private recording service contracted by the broadcast sponsor or one of the performers. The bare aluminum disks were typically 10 or 12 inches in diameter and recorded at the then-standard speed of 78 RPM, which meant that several disk sides were required to accommodate even a 15-minute program. By about 1936, 16-inch aluminum-based disks coated with cellulose nitrate lacquer, commonly known as acetates
Acetate disc
An acetate disc, also known as a test acetate, dubplate , lacquer , transcription disc or instantaneous disc...

 and recorded at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM, had been adopted by the networks and individual radio stations as the standard medium for recording broadcasts. The making of such recordings, at least for some purposes, then became routine. Some disks were recorded using a "hill and dale" vertically modulated groove, rather than the "lateral" side-to-side modulation found on the records being made for home use at that time. The large slow-speed disks could easily contain fifteen minutes on each side, allowing an hour-long program to be recorded on only two disks. The lacquer was softer than shellac or vinyl and wore more rapidly, allowing only a few playbacks with the heavy pickups and steel needles then in use before deterioration became audible.

During World War II, aluminium became a necessary material for the war effort. This caused an alternative to be sought for the base on which to coat the lacquer, as aluminium was hard to come by. As a result, glass became the most common material used for disks between the years 1942 and 1945 but they were inevitably extremely fragile.

Magnetic wire recording

In the late 1940s, wire recorders
Wire recording
Wire recording is a type of analog audio storage in which a magnetic recording is made on thin steel or stainless steel wire.The wire is pulled rapidly across a recording head which magnetizes each point along the wire in accordance with the intensity and polarity of the electrical audio signal...

 became a readily obtainable means of recording radio programs. On a per-minute basis, it was less expensive to record a broadcast on wire than on disks. The one-hour program that required the four sides of two 16-inch disks could be recorded intact on a single spool of wire less than three inches in diameter and about half an inch thick. The audio fidelity of a good wire recording was comparable to acetate disks and by comparison the wire was practically indestructible, but it was soon rendered obsolete by the more manageable and easily edited medium of magnetic tape.

Reel-to-reel tape recording

Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby
Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was an American singer and actor. Crosby's trademark bass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation....

 became the first major proponent of magnetic tape recording for radio, and he was the first to use it on network radio, after he did a demonstration program in 1947. Tape had several advantages over earlier recording methods. Running at a sufficiently high speed, it could achieve higher fidelity than both electrical transcription disks and magnetic wire. Disks could only be edited by copying parts of them to a new disk, and the copying entailed a loss of audio quality. Wire could be divided up and the ends spliced together by knotting, but wire was difficult to handle and the crude splices were too noticeable. Tape could be edited by cutting it with a blade and neatly joining ends together with adhesive tape. By early 1949, the transition from live performances preserved on disks to performances prerecorded on magnetic tape for later broadcast was complete for network radio programs. However, for the physical distribution of prerecorded programming to individual stations, 16-inch 33 1/3 rpm vinyl pressings, less expensive to produce in quantities of identical copies than tapes, continued to be standard throughout the 1950s.

Availability of recordings

The great majority of pre-World War II live radio broadcasts, many never recorded at all, have not been preserved, and the earlier the date, the less likely it is that a recording of the broadcast was made and survives. A good number of prerecorded syndicated programs from this period have survived because copies of those were originally distributed far and wide. Recordings of live network broadcasts from the World War II years were preserved in the form of pressed vinyl copies issued by the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) and survive in relative abundance. Syndicated programs from World War II and later years have nearly all survived. However, after about 1950, when the networks started prerecording their formerly live shows on magnetic tape for subsequent network broadcast, but did not physically distribute copies, the survival rate of recordings of such broadcasts declines precipitously because the tapes, unlike electrical transcription ("ET") discs, could be "wiped" and re-used. Aircheck
In the radio industry, an aircheck is generally a demonstration recording, often intended to show off the talent of an announcer or programmer to a prospective employer, but mainly intended for legal archiving purposes...

s (off-the-air recordings) of complete shows made by, or at the behest of, individuals for their own private use sometimes help to fill in such gaps. The contents of privately made recordings of live broadcasts from the first half of the 1930s can be of particular interest, as little live material from that period survives. Unfortunately, the sound quality of very early private recordings is often very poor, although in some cases this is largely due to the use of an incorrect playback stylus, which can also badly damage some unusual types of discs.

Most of the Golden Age programs in circulation among collectors – whether on analog tape, CD, or in the form of MP3
MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a patented digital audio encoding format using a form of lossy data compression...

s – originated from 16-inch transcription discs. In many cases, the circulating recordings are several generations of analog reel-to-reel and cassette tape copies down the line from the original discs, being the product of tape-trading among collectors during the decades before lossless digital duplication was possible. The muffled sound, dropouts, sudden changes in sound quality, unsteady pitch and other defects heard all too often are almost always accumulated tape copy defects. The audio quality of the source discs, when they have survived unscathed and are accessed and dubbed anew, is usually found to be reasonably clear and undistorted, sometimes startlingly good, although like all phonograph records they are vulnerable to wear and the effects of scuffs, scratches and ground-in dust. Many shows from the 1940s have survived only in edited AFRS versions, although some exist in both the original and AFRS forms.


Some old-time radio shows continued on the air, although in ever-dwindling numbers, throughout the 1950s even after their television equivalents had conquered the general public. One factor which helped to kill them off entirely was the evolution of popular music (including the development of rock and roll
Rock and roll
Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music...

), which led to the birth of the top 40 radio format. A top 40 show could be produced in a small studio in a local station with minimal staff. This displaced full-service network radio and hastened the end of virtually all scripted radio drama by 1962. Full-service stations that did not adopt either top 40 or the mellower beautiful music
Beautiful music
Beautiful music is a mostly instrumental music format that was prominent in American radio from the 1960s through the 1980s...

 or MOR formats eventually developed all-news radio
All-news radio
All-news radio is a radio format devoted entirely to discussion and broadcast of news.All-news radio is available in both local and syndicated forms, and is carried in some form on both major US satellite radio networks...

 in the mid-1960s.

Scripted radio comedy and drama in the vein of old-time radio has a limited presence on U.S. radio. There are several radio theatre series still in production in the United States, usually airing on Sunday nights. These include original series such as Imagination Theatre and a radio adaptation of The Twilight Zone TV series, as well as rerun compilations such as the popular daily series When Radio Was
When Radio Was
-History:The series began as a local program in Chicago, hosted by Carl Amari, who was the founder of Radio Spirits, Inc., which sells tapes and CDs of old time radio programs. Former CBS Radio executive Dick Brescia heard an in-flight version of the program, and soon mounted a nationally...

and USA Radio Network
USA Radio Network
The USA Radio Network is a syndicator of talk radio programming established in 1985. It provides programming to approximately 1,100 radio stations around the world, plus the American Forces Network and XM Satellite Radio, and can be heard on the internet from USA Radio's website.On March 5, 2008,...

's Golden Age of Radio Theatre. These shows usually air in late nights and/or on weekends on small AM stations. Local rerun compilations are also heard, primarily on public radio stations. Regular broadcasts of radio plays are also heard in — among other countries — Australia, Croatia, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

Vintage shows and new audio productions in America are accessible more widely from recordings or by satellite and web broadcasters, rather than over conventional AM and FM radio. The National Audio Theatre Festival
National Audio Theatre Festival
The National Audio Theatre Festivals, Inc. is a US-based organization sponsoring a yearly, five-day workshop on radio drama, voiceover and the audio arts, as well as other special training. Participants take classes on subjects such as voiceover and voice acting, audio engineering, Foley and...

 is a national organization and yearly conference keeping the audio arts - especially audio drama - alive, and continues to involve long-time voice actors and OTR veterans in its ranks. Its predecessor, the Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop, was first hosted by Jim Jordan
Jim Jordan
James "Jim" Jordan was the actor who played Fibber McGee in Fibber McGee and Molly, and the albatross, Orville, in Disney's The Rescuers .-Biography:...

, of "Fibber McGee and Molly" fame, and Norman Corwin
Norman Corwin
Norman Lewis Corwin was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing...

 continues to advise the organization.

One of the longest running radio programs celebrating this era is The Golden Days of Radio, which was hosted on the Armed Forces Radio Service for more than 20 years and overall for more than 50 years by Frank Bresee, who also played "Little Beaver" on the Red Ryder
Red Ryder
Red Ryder was a popular long-running Western comic strip created by Stephen Slesinger and artist Fred Harman. Beginning Sunday, November 6, 1938, Red Ryder was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association, expanding over the following decade to 750 newspapers, translations into ten languages and...

program as a child actor.

One of the very few still-running shows from the earlier era of radio is a Christian program entitled Unshackled!
Unshackled! is a radio drama series produced by Pacific Garden Mission, in Chicago, Illinois, that first aired in 1950. It is the longest-running radio drama in history and one of very few still in production in the United States...

 The weekly half hour show, produced in Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

 by Pacific Garden Mission
Pacific Garden Mission
Pacific Garden Mission is a homeless shelter in the South Loop section of Chicago, Illinois, founded in 1877, by Colonel George Clarke and his wife, Sarah. It has been nicknamed, "The Old Lighthouse." It is the oldest such shelter in Chicago...

, has been continuously broadcast since 1950. The shows are created using techniques from the 1950s (including home-made sound effects) and are broadcast across the U.S. and around the world by thousands of radio stations.

Today, radio performers of the past appear at conventions which feature re-creations of classic shows, as well as music, memorabilia and historical panels. The largest of these events is the Friends of Old Time Radio Convention, held in Newark, New Jersey
Newark, New Jersey
Newark is the largest city in the American state of New Jersey, and the seat of Essex County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Newark had a population of 277,140, maintaining its status as the largest municipality in New Jersey. It is the 68th largest city in the U.S...

 each October will have its final convention in 2011 after 36 years. Others include REPS in Seattle (June), SPERDVAC in California, the Cincinnati OTR & Nostalgia Convention (April), and the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (September).

Radio dramas from the golden age are sometimes recreated as live stage performances at such events. One such group, led by director Daniel Smith, has been performing re-creations of old-time radio dramas at Fairfield University
Fairfield University
Fairfield University is a private, co-educational undergraduate and master's level teaching-oriented university located in Fairfield, Connecticut, in the New England region of the United States. It was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1942, and today is one of 28 member institutions of the...

's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts
Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts
There is also a Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure, New York.The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts is the major center of theatre and the arts at Fairfield University located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The Center includes events such as popular...

 since the year 2000.

The 40th anniversary of what is widely considered the end of the old time radio era (the final broadcasts of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was a radio drama of "the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account — America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator." The show aired on CBS Radio from January 14, 1949 to September 30, 1962...

and Suspense
Suspense (radio program)
-Production background:One of the premier drama programs of the Golden Age of Radio, was subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" and focused on suspense thriller-type scripts, usually featuring leading Hollywood actors of the era...

on September 30, 1962) was marked with a commentary on NPR's All Things Considered.

A handful of radio programs from the old-time era remain in production, all from the genre of news or music: the Grand Ole Opry
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, that has presented the biggest stars of that genre since 1925. It is also among the longest-running broadcasts in history since its beginnings as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM-AM...

(1925), Music and the Spoken Word
Music and the Spoken Word
Music and the Spoken Word is a weekly 30-minute radio and television program of inspiring messages and music produced by Bonneville Communications with music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir .The radio program is distributed by the CBS Radio Network and its broadcast center is KSL...

(1929), the CBS World News Roundup
CBS World News Roundup
The CBS World News Roundup is a radio newscast that airs weekday mornings and evenings on the CBS Radio Network.It first went on-air on March 13, 1938 at 8 p.m...

(1938), King Biscuit Time
King Biscuit Time
King Biscuit Time is the longest-running daily American radio broadcasts in history. The program is broadcast each weekday from KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, United States and has won the George Foster Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence and is currently broadcast from the KFFA studio located in...

(1941) and the Renfro Valley Gatherin'
Renfro Valley Gatherin'
Renfro Valley Gatherin' is a United States radio program based in Renfro Valley, Kentucky...

(1943). Of those, all but the Opry maintain their original short-form length of 30 minutes or less. News and Comment (1951), a series created by Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey Aurandt , better known as Paul Harvey, was an American radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio Networks. He broadcast News and Comment on weekday mornings and mid-days, and at noon on Saturdays, as well as his famous The Rest of the Story segments. His listening audience was estimated, at...

, continues in spirit with commentaries by Doug Limerick
Doug Limerick
Doug Limerick is an American radio personality. He has been a news correspondent for ABC Radio Networks since 1982. In March 2009, he was chosen as a possible successor to Paul Harvey on the radio show The Rest of the Story...

 and The Huckabee Report
The Huckabee Report
The Huckabee Report is a radio program hosted by former Republican governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, that first aired in January 2009. The program broadcasts on Cumulus Media Networks , three times each day , and each commentary is approximately 4 minutes long.On March 23, 2009, The Huckabee...

, as does the Wheeling Jamboree
WWVA Jamboree
WWVA Jamboree, renamed Jamboree U.S.A. in the 1960s, and the Wheeling Jamboree in 2009, is a pioneering American radio show that featured country music from 1933–2008, and again since January 2009...

, the current version of which is a successor to a program founded in 1933.


  • American Museum of Radio and Electricity
    American Museum of Radio and Electricity
    The American Museum of Radio and Electricity is an interactive museum located in Bellingham, Washington, which offers educational experiences for audiences of all ages through galleries and public programs that illustrate the development and use of electricity, radio and the related inventions that...

  • Museum of Broadcast Communications
    Museum of Broadcast Communications
    The Museum of Broadcast Communications is an American museum that currently exists exclusively on the Internet and not in any physical capacity. Its stated mission is "to collect, preserve, and present historic and contemporary radio and television content as well as educate, inform and entertain...

  • The Paley Center for Media

See also

  • List of old-time radio programs
  • List of old-time radio people
  • List of U.S. radio programs
  • List of radio soaps
  • Antique radio
    Antique radio
    An antique radio is a radio receiving set that is collectible because of its age and rarity. Although collectors may differ on the cutoff dates, most would use 50 years old, or the pre-World War II Era, for vacuum tube sets and the first five years of transistor sets.-Morse only sets:The first...

  • Audio theater
  • Chuck Schaden
    Chuck Schaden
    Charles Leroy "Chuck" Schaden, born June 29, 1934, is a Chicago-area broadcaster and historian who hosted the program Those Were the Days on local radio from 1970 to 2009. Schaden plays recordings of classic old-time radio shows and reminisces with radio personalities about the early days of...

  • Music radio
    Music radio
    Music radio is a radio format in which music is the main broadcast content. After television replaced old time radio's dramatic content, music formats became dominant in many countries...

  • Radio comedy
    Radio comedy
    Radio comedy, or comedic radio programming, is a radio broadcast that may involve sitcom elements, sketches and various types of comedy found on other media. It may also include more surreal or fantastic elements, as these can be conveyed on a small budget with just a few sound effects or some...

  • Radio drama
    Radio drama
    Radio drama is a dramatized, purely acoustic performance, broadcast on radio or published on audio media, such as tape or CD. With no visual component, radio drama depends on dialogue, music and sound effects to help the listener imagine the characters and story...

  • Soap opera
    Soap opera
    A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble,...

  • When Radio Was
    When Radio Was
    -History:The series began as a local program in Chicago, hosted by Carl Amari, who was the founder of Radio Spirits, Inc., which sells tapes and CDs of old time radio programs. Former CBS Radio executive Dick Brescia heard an in-flight version of the program, and soon mounted a nationally...

  • Radio Days
    Radio Days
    Radio Days is a 1987 comedy film directed by Woody Allen. The film looks back on an American family's life during the Golden Age of Radio using both music and memories to tell the story.-Plot:...

    (Woody Allen
    Woody Allen
    Woody Allen is an American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, jazz musician, author, and playwright. Allen's films draw heavily on literature, sexuality, philosophy, psychology, Jewish identity, and the history of cinema...

     film dramatizing old-time radio)

Further reading

  • It's That Time Again, Volume 4, edited by Jim Harmon
    Jim Harmon
    James Judson Harmon , better known as Jim Harmon, was an American short story author and popular culture historian who wrote extensively about the Golden Age of Radio. He sometimes used the pseudonym Judson Grey, and occasionally he was labeled Mr...

    . Albany, BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-118-2.

External links

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