Radio Days / Radio Plays
The Golden Age of Radio, refers to a period of radio programming in the United States lasting from the early 1920s until the 1950s; reaching its peak popularity with general audiences during the 1930s and 1940s. In a time before televisions and computers, radio was the first medium that brought live entertainment into the homes of Americans across the country and Millions tuned in daily to listen to their favorite programs.
During the Golden Age of Radio, new forms of entertainment were created for the new medium: radio plays, mystery, adventure and detective serials, sopa operas, quiz shows, variety hours, talent shows, situation comedies, children’s shows, live musical concerts, play by play sports broadcasts and the format of modern radio news.
Part of this peak period of radio coincided with The Great Depression in North America; when people were doing without most luxuries, and even a few seeming necessities. Radio and its wide range of live music, comedy, variety shows, and dramatic programming served as a welcome escape from those troubled times. Even though many people couldn’t afford payments on their washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or Model A Fords, they desperately struggled to keep up payments on their radios. Not only were all of these things relatively expensive in the 1930s, but a large percentage of people were out of work.
By 1935, more than 22 million American homes had radios and these technical devices weren’t small; they were built into large wooden cases that amounted to elaborate pieces of furniture. The large size was due mostly to large vacuum tubes in the circuitry. These early radios also had large speakers that provided rich bass, and large loops of wire wound around an internal drum that served as an adjustable antenna for receiving distant stations.
Entire families sat around the large radio, prominently situated in the living room and listened to shows like “Amos ‘n Andy”, “Gunsmoke” ,”The Shadow”, “Dick Tracy”, “Buck Rogers“, and each individual listener created their very own images of the characters and settings; thus the term THEATRE OF THE MIND.
The shows were created in large studios, before a live audience. The broadcast involved writers, announcers, bandleaders, technicians, sound effect men, stock actors and the stars, script in hand, speaking into microphones. The scripts were paper-clipped together, and pages were simply dropped to the carpeted floor after use. Sometimes when reassembling a script to use it for live broadcasting to the next time zone, some pages would be out of order or missing entirely; calling upon the improvisational expertise of the cast of actors.
Radio shows were very often sponsored by companies whose brand name was present in the show’s title. There was ALKA SELTZER TIME, KING BISCUIT HOUR, THE CAMPBELL PLAYHOUSE, CHESTERFIELD SUPPER CLUB, THE EVEREADY HOUR, KRAFT MUSIC HALL, LUCKY STRIKE HOUR, MAXWELL HOUSE SHOWBOAT, PALMOLIVE BEAUTY BOX THEATER, LUX RADIO THEATRE, etc.
Because our audiences enjoy hearing / seeing the period advertisements, we always include several in our presentations; mostly three but in keeping with the zaniness of THE MARX BROTHERS RADIO HOUR we actually interpolated 16 authentic commercials from the 1930’s & 1940’s sung by a vocal quartet!
In our ongoing series, we have presented many classics from the Golden Era of Radio, including the drama SORRY, WRONG NUMBER by Lucille Fletcher, the 1959 Radio Adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ by L.Frank Baum, THE LONE RANGER by Fran Striker, THE MARX BROTHERS RADIO SHOW – Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel, DRACULA by Bram Stoker as adapted for radio by Orson Welles, CASABLANCA – Live Radio Play,the Holiday themed IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but also modern Radio plays such as UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas and NICK DANGER; Third Eye by The Firesign Theatre.
NEAT has also presented our very own Radio Play adaptations of short stories and novels; AUTOPSY ROOM FOUR by Stephen King, THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams, PYSCHO by Alfred Hitchcock, THE BIRDS by Daphne DuMaurier, THE DIARIES OF ADAM & EVE, LETTERS FROM THE EARTH, THE AWFUL GERMAN LANGUAGE all by Mark Twain, TRUE DYLAN by Sam Shepard, SEVEN YEAR ITCH by George Axelrod, 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff, SNOWANGEL by Lewis John Carlino, ‘NIGHT, MOTHER by Marsha Norman, DOLORES by Edward Allan Baker
In 2022, we have several classic Radio Plays on the NEAT agenda; among them SUPERMAN, MACBETH, and WAR OF THE WORLDS by H.G.Wells as adapted for the radio by Orson Welles – allwith live music, live sound effects and lots original period advertising!