Turn your radio on and listen to the music in the air

Echoes of our past
William & JoyWangemann • forThe Review

There was a time when radio was the entertainment center of nearly every home in America.

We old folks (me included) remember it fondly as a miracle of our time. Maybe I should take a moment and explain to the younger folks just what broadcast radio was.

The radio set was usually housed in a large finely built cabinet in a prominent place in our living room - sort of a TV set without a picture tube. The picture was formed in your own mind. In most cases radio today is just a small device in the dash board of your car.

Broadcast radio beamed to the general public began from Detroit radio station WWJ began Aug. 20, 1920 in a small way. Soon radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh began broadcasting on a regular schedule.

Radio programs were quickly developed and were broadcast weakly. The sale of radio sets mushroomed much like TV sets after World War II.

The 1930s saw the rapid development of every type of programing imaginable.

There were the comedy programs with Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Baby Snooks (a troublesome little girl played by 40-year-old Fanny Brice a former Ziegfeld Follies comedienne), Amos and Andy, Ozzie and Harriet, The Aldrich Family, Bob Hope, and Fibber McGee and Molly (with such charters as Digger Odell the friendly undertaker). That’s just to mention a few.

Fibber McGee and Molly was in its day one of the most popular programs on radio. I can remember many times listening to their show and laughing until the tears ran down my face.

And there was drama. The program Bold Adventure was played by none other than Humphry Bogart and Lauren Bacall; and not to forget Dragnet, in which Jack Webb played the leading character.

Then there was Gang Busters, heralded as “the only national program that brings you actual police case histories” — my favorite! There were many others such as The FBI in Peace and War.

Broadcast radio did not forget the favorite of many — the westerns. Well known western movie stars had their own radio programs. Stars such as Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Leonard F. Slye — born in 1911. Who? Maybe I should have used his movie name, Roy Rogers!

Others were Tales of the Texas Rangers, Fort Laramie Frontier Town and a host of others.

There were mystery programs; music programs with the like of Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Eddy Arnold and many others, including Bob Crosby; detective programs; and science fiction all filled the daily broadcast schedule. Of all the programing on the air, few gathered more faithful listeners than the soaps. Just what were the soaps and why were they called that? Stand by, I will try to explain.

The soaps were daytime radio programs some of them only 15 minutes long. They were primarily directed at the female listeners. Those who sponsored the programs felt that most women were housewives and daytime listeners. Hence most of the sponsors were soap companies. Sponsors included Proctor and Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Lever Brothers.

The program format was one of romance, marriage problems and the life of women in general. They were in serial form and continued from day-to-day with the same characters, some for many years. Others were off the air in a short time.

The longest running soap I could find records on was The Guiding Light, which went on the air in 1937 and went off the air in 1956; however four of those years the serial was on both radio and TV. In 1952 The Guiding Light went on TV and finally went off TV in 2009 — a startling total of 72 years including radio and TV.

There were, over the years, approximately 81 soaps, some lasting a few months and others for decades,such as a serial called “Just Plain Bill” which lasted 23 years (no relation to me).

Today’s tidbit: Old court records indicate that numerous Sheboygan citizens complained that an elderly Sheboygan citizen living among them who had not bathed for 50 years was unpleasant to be near.

The man was arrested by Sheboygan Police and turned over to the court. After a brief trial the judge agreed. The guilty party was sentenced by the judge to a bath at once. The sentence was supervised by a Sheriff’s deputy. Apparently the convicted man was not familiar with the use of soap.

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