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WeEarth Global Radio Network WeEarth is pleased to present selected top episodes of many of the best shows of the Golden Age of Radio. We invite you to listen, not simply for a taste of nostalgia — but for the imaginative transport that these shows well written and creatively produced can provide. Our initial selection includes episodes from The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Amos n’ Andy, Red Skelton, Laurel and Hardy, Hopalong Cassidy, and more — and in the future we will continue to offer selected episodes from the greats of the Golden Age of Radio.
What It Was Like to Live in the Golden Age of Radio
An Invitation to Imagine by WeEarth Global Radio Network
Imagine (or if you’re old enough, remember!) what it was like to be a kid growing up in the 1930′s. Money was scarce; movies were hot, parlor games and board games were popular. Life was tough; your dad could expect to live 58 years; your mom, 60. Milk was 14 cents a quart; bread 9 cents a loaf; steak was 50 cents a pound. Work was scarce; the Great Depression was in full swing, and the average family’s income had dropped from $2,300 in 1929 to $1,500.
A generation earlier, America had been the land of hope and opportunity, fueled by values of democracy, capitalism, and individualism. that were now being openly questioned as opportunity turned to despair and desperation. Now, unemployment was everywhere, and the values of democracy, capitalism, and individualism that had fueled the idea as American opportunity were openly being questioned. Thousands of Dust Bowl farmers and others were packing their families into cars, possessions strapped on top, to seek work in the agricultural fields or cities of the west — but if you were like most families, you hunkered down, scrimped and saved, and tried to get by.
One woman recalls:
When the depression hit my Dad was laid off from the bank where he worked and for seven years never had steady employment. He was physically unable to do manual labor and it is still a mystery to me how he and mother were able to feed and clothe three children until we were able to make it on our own. Mother said one of the happiest days of Dad?s life was when he paid off the last hundred dollars charged at a grocery store. To his apology for being in debt so long the owner said, ?I wasn’t worried, J. R. I knew you were good for it?.
In this environment, there was a new technological marvel that provided comfort to the entire family in ways big and small. The family radio was the centerpiece in the living room — a standalone, wood-paneled marvel, as big as the console TV’s that would come decades later, filled with mysterious tubes and coils that produced deep, booming bass and clear, crisp high frequency sounds. For the first time in history, everyone in the country was able, through this new marvel, to experience the same thing at the same time. Whether it was the Fireside Chats of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or any of the regular dramatic, comedy, or variety shows that everyone listened to — radio was a binding force the likes of which America has never known before or since. To place the unifying power of Golden Age Radio, consider the following: at its peak, a weekly episode of Amos ‘n Andy was heard by 40 million Americans at a time when the population was 120 million. In our modern lives, the highest rated Super Bowl ever was seen by 40.1m viewers — at a time when the US Populations was 250 million, and the highest rated TV episode of all time — the MASH Finale — drew 50.1m. Radio in the 1930′s right up through the advent of television in the 1950′s was a powerful, unifying cultural force the likes of which has never been replicated.
The soap opera dominated the daytime airwaves — Our Gal Sunday was famous for beginning each episode with the question: “Can a girl from a little mining town in the west find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?” Heroes abounded — Flash Gordon, The Green Hornet, the Shadow, Jack Armstrong, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Charlie Chan. Comedians like Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton, and entertainers like Danny Kaye and Bob Hope all contributed to the to radio-induced zeitgeist of the era. One of the most dramatic moments in radio history occurred in 1937 when live coverage of the much ballyhooed arrival of the German airship Hindenburg in Lakehurst, New Jersey ended in a horrific crash covered life by the reporter Herb Morrison. His reaction to what was happening electrified and terrified millions of listeners — and still enthralls today. On Halloween eve 1938, 23 year old Orson Welles broadcast on his Mercury Theater of the Air the H.G. Wells story War of the Worlds and despite various disclaimers before and after the program, induced widespread panic that a Martian invasion of the Earth was actually happening.
Such was the power of Golden Age Radio.