History of Radio:

The Golden Age of Radio, also known as the old-time radio (OTR) era, was an era of radio in the United States where it was the dominant electronic home entertainment medium.

It began with the birth of commercial radio broadcasting in the early 1920s and lasted through the 1950s, when television gradually superseded radio as the medium of choice for scripted programming, variety and dramatic shows.



Radio was the first broadcast medium, and people regularly tuned-in to their favorite radio programs, and families gathered to listen to the home radio in the evening. According to a 1947 C. E. Hooper survey, 82 out of 100 Americans were found to be radio listeners.

A variety of new entertainment formats and genres were created for the new medium, many of which later migrated to television: radio plays, mystery serials, soap operas, quiz shows, talent shows, daytime and evening variety hours, situation comedies, play-by-play sports, children's shows, cooking shows, and more.

In the 1950s, television superseded radio as the most popular broadcast medium, and commercial radio programming shifted to narrower formats of news, talk, sports and music. Religious broadcasters, listener-supported public radio and college stations provide their own distinctive formats.



During the first 3 decades of radio, from 1887 to about 1920, the technology of transmitting sound was undeveloped; the information-carrying ability of radio waves was the same as a telegraph; the radio signal could be either on or off.

Radio communication was by radiotelegraphy; at the sending end, an operator tapped on a switch which caused the radio transmitter to produce a series of pulses of radio waves which spelled out text messages in Morse code. At the receiver these sounded like beeps, requiring an operator who knew Morse code to translate them back to text.

This type of radio was used exclusively for person-to-person text communication for commercial, diplomatic and military purposes and hobbyists; broadcasting did not exist.

The broadcasts of live drama, comedy, music and news that characterize the Golden Age of Radio had a precedent in the Théâtrophone, 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.



Between 1900 and 1920 the first technology for transmitting sound by radio was developed, AM (amplitude modulation), and AM broadcasting sprang up around 1920.



On Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden 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, in a lecture given at Harvard University. In 1932 Fessenden cited the Christmas 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 (1940), eight years after Fessenden's death.



Radio Networks:

Several radio networks broadcast in the United States, airing programs nationwide. Their distribution made the golden age of radio possible. The networks declined in the early 1960s; Mutual and NBC's parent companies both closed down their radio operations in the 1990s, while ABC lasted until 2007 when it was bought by Citadel Broadcasting, which was, in turn, merged with Cumulus Media on September 16, 2011.



Types of programs:

During the Golden Age of Radio, new forms of entertainment were created for the new medium, which later migrated to television and other media: radio plays, mystery, adventure and detective serials, soap operas, quiz shows, variety hours, talent shows, situation comedies, children's shows, as well as live musical concerts and play-by-play sports broadcasts.

In addition, the capability of the new medium to get information to people created the format of modern radio news: headlines, remote reporting, sidewalk interviews (such as Vox Pop), panel discussions, weather reports, farm reports.


The earliest radio programs of the 1920s were largely unsponsored; radio stations were a service designed to sell radio receivers. By the late 1920s, radio had reached critical mass and saturated the market, necessitating a change in business model. The sponsored musical feature soon became the most popular program format.


Most early radio sponsorship came in the form of selling the naming rights to the program, as evidenced by such programs as The A&P Gypsies, Champion Spark Plug Hour, The Clicquot Club Eskimos, and King Biscuit Time; commercials, as they are known in the modern era, were still relatively uncommon and considered intrusive. During the 1930s and 1940s, the leading orchestras were heard often through big band remotes, and NBC's Monitor continued such remotes well into the 1950s by broadcasting live music from New York City jazz clubs to rural America.


Classical music programs on the air included The Voice of Firestone and The Bell Telephone Hour. Texaco sponsored the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts; the broadcasts, now sponsored by the Toll Brothers, 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 conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which had been created especially for him. At that time, nearly all classical musicians and critics considered Toscanini the greatest living maestro. Popular songwriters such as George Gershwin were also featured on radio. (Gershwin, in addition to frequent appearances as a guest, had his own program in 1934.) The New York Philharmonic also had weekly concerts on radio.


There was no dedicated classical music radio station like NPR 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 and PBS.


Country music also enjoyed popularity. National Barn Dance, begun on Chicago's WLS in 1924, was picked up by NBC Radio in 1933. In 1925, WSM Barn Dance went on the air from Nashville. It was renamed the Grand Ole Opry in 1927 and NBC carried portions from 1944 to 1956. NBC also aired The Red Foley Show from 1951 to 1961, and ABC Radio carried Ozark Jubilee from 1953 to 1961.


Radio attracted top comedy talents from vaudeville and Hollywood for many years: Bing Crosby, Abbott and Costello, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Bob Burns, Judy Canova, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Phil Harris, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Jean Shepherd, Red Skelton and Ed Wynn. Situational comedies also gained popularity, such as Amos 'n' Andy, Burns and Allen, Easy Aces, Ethel and Albert, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Goldbergs, The Great Gildersleeve, The Halls of Ivy (which featured screen star Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume), Meet Corliss Archer, Meet Millie, and Our Miss Brooks.


Radio comedy ran the gamut from the small town humor of Lum and Abner, Herb Shriner and Minnie Pearl to the dialect characterizations of Mel Blanc and the caustic sarcasm of Henry Morgan. Gags galore were delivered weekly on Stop Me If You've Heard This One and Can You Top This?, panel programs devoted to the art of telling jokes. Quiz shows were lampooned on It Pays to Be Ignorant, and other memorable parodies were presented by such satirists as Spike Jones, Stoopnagle and Budd, Stan Freberg and Bob and Ray. British comedy reached American shores in a major assault when NBC carried The Goon Show 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 (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 (1936), became a weekly situation comedy heard on Mutual (1944) with Everett Sloane and later on NBC (1951) with Walter Brennan.


Other shows were adapted from comic strips, such as Blondie, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Li'l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye the Sailor, Red Ryder, Reg'lar Fellers, Terry and the Pirates and Tillie the Toiler. Bob Montana's redheaded teen of comic strips and comic books was heard on radio's Archie Andrews from 1943 to 1953. The Timid Soul was a 1941–1942 comedy based on cartoonist H. T. Webster's famed Caspar Milquetoast character, and Robert L. Ripley's Believe It or Not! was adapted to several different radio formats during the 1930s and 1940s. Conversely, some radio shows gave rise to spinoff comic strips, such as My Friend Irma starring Marie Wilson.


The first soap opera, Clara, Lu, and Em was introduced in 1930 on Chicago's WGN. 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, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Captain Midnight, and The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Badges, rings, decoding devices and other radio premiums offered on these adventure shows were often allied with a sponsor's product, requiring the young listeners to mail in a boxtop from a breakfast cereal or other proof of purchase.


Radio dramas were presented on such programs as 26 by Corwin, NBC Short Story, Arch Oboler's Plays, Quiet, Please, and CBS Radio Workshop. Orson Welles's The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The 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 or Helen Hayes, in adaptations from literature, Broadway, and/or films. They included such titles as Liliom, Oliver Twist (a title now feared lost), A Tale of Two Cities, Lost Horizon, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It was on Mercury Theatre that Welles presented his celebrated-but-infamous 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, formatted to sound like a breaking news program. Theatre Guild on the Air presented adaptations of classical and Broadway plays. Their Shakespeare adaptations included a one-hour Macbeth starring Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson, and a 90-minute Hamlet, starring John Gielgud. Recordings of many of these programs survive.


During the 1940s, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, famous for playing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in films, repeated their characterizations on radio on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which featured both original stories and episodes directly adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle'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 many dramatizations of Sherlock Holmes stories on radio without Rathbone and Bruce.