By Amy Stephens
I’m an 80’s girl. I grew up in the era of big hair, leg warmers, and Whitney Houston.
Unlike my teen peers, I had an unusual interest in the “oldies.” I thought it was fun to watch black-and-white movies and read old books. But listening to Old Time Radio shows became the habit that has stuck with me for life.
When I was in high school, the local oldies station, KOMA, ran a throw-back of 1940-1950’s radio shows in the wee hours of the morning. For Christmas I had gotten a fancy alarm clock with a cassette tape deck—and I could set it to record something from the radio. While most kids my age were recording Madonna and Bon Jovi, I was recording Old Time Radio Shows. As I was getting ready for school (spending an hour on my 80’s big hair), I would listen to these shows.
And I started learning a lot of history—about how people lived during the 1940s and during WWII.
I’ve been a fan ever since. Even still, when I go to the gym or take a walk in the neighborhood—I listen to a 30-minute episode. Depending on my mood, it might be a mystery, a comedy, a big band concert, or a Fireside Chat with President Roosevelt.
So, I want to share my personal Top 6 Reasons why anyone of any age can enjoy listening to Old Time Radio.
- Good shows, Minus the Screen Time
I give credit to the radio show writers, because they were master storytellers. They used only words, voices, and sound effects. I can stroll through the neighborhood and enjoy scenery while listening to The Shadow–using my imagination and not looking down at my phone.
- A Fun Way to Learn (or Re-live) History
As mentioned, I was the quirky teenager who preferred Bob Hope jokes to Seinfeld humor. I’ve now realized that I gained a solid understanding of the social and political issues going on during the early radio era–from the stock market crash to war rationing. These shows prepared me for my museum career. I’ve also had the pleasure of sharing lively conversations with the “senior citizen set” who actually remember listening to the radio as kids.
- Kid-Friendly, Clean Content
Have children at home? Then you know how hard it is to find clean, appropriate television shows. Questionable content and cuss words have crept into today’s commercials, the news, and even cartoons. Radio shows are safe. A strict board of censors kept things squeaky clean. I do have disclaimers, however, because radios shows occasionally include items that are no longer considered acceptable, from fat jokes to wide-spread cigarette use. Even as a teenager, it was obvious to me that these were part of a different time in history—but realize that a rare teaching moment might present itself about how things have changed.
- Easily Accessed by Phone or Computer
It’s as easy as YouTube. No more midnight recordings or cassette tapes for me! There are many online sites that offer original recordings that you can listen to, download, or buy on CD. One site has a phone app, which offers a different show each day—that’s what I listen to when I head to the gym or am doing housework.
- No Commercial Interruptions
No commercial breaks every 3 minutes! Most radio shows were sponsored by one company, which received mention at the beginning, the end, and sometimes the middle. For example, during the Fibber McGee & Molly Show, the sponsor would “drop by” for a visit with McGees, but always managed to turn the conversation about a lost hammer or a cake recipe toward Johnson’s Wax. Sometimes it was sneaky, usually it was blatant, but it in either case, it propelled the storyline forward.
- A LOT of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Music
Crosby and Sinatra both began as big band singers, but soon starred in their own radio shows. I was probably their only Generation X-er fan during the 1980’s when most people my age only knew them as Christmas singers. Then, “crooner” popularity resurged again in the 1990’s, and suddenly their music was heard in movies and restaurants everywhere. But I’m claiming it! I knew their music before that happened. Thanks to old radio, I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of their music, and often heard song versions that didn’t make the recording studio cut.
Have I convinced you that the golden-age of radio is the coolest? Give old radio a try next time your eyes need a screen break. Turn to the Radio Classics channel on your satellite station during your next road trip. Let your sick child lay in bed and listen to old radio (haha—yes, I’ve done that). If you’re looking for a great way to enjoy classic stories, hear your favorite Sinatra song in a new way, or learn a little history—listen to old radio shows.