Radio Daze

My elementary school-age grandkids love it when I tell them stories about how things were when I was their age. Either they’re truly interested or use it as an excuse to delay bedtime. I really don’t care which it is, because I love delving into the past. I also love seeing looks of profound disbelief come over them when I tell them what life used to be like.

For example, they find it hard to believe we had no television. When I explain that we listened to the radio, they ask what kind of music did we tune in to. “We didn’t listen to music on the radio. Only on the Victrola.” I explained, waiting for them to ask what a Victrola is. “The only music I remember being played on the radio,” I tell them, “was the symphony or opera.” My family, jazz lovers to the end, did not tune in to those programs.

I told them that some of my favorite programs were The Jack Benny Hour and Fibber McGee and Molly. (I still refer to their closets as Fibber McGee’s and they don’t have a clue what I mean.) I especially loved the Lux Radio Theater on Monday nights. My parents, recognizing my passion for the program, allowed me to stay up until 10 so I could hear dramatizations of such wonderful books as “Rebecca” and “Wuthering Heightds.”

On Saturday morning, my siter and I always managed to wake up in time to hear “Let’s Pretend.” How we loved those productions of Cinderella, Sleeping beauty and other fairy tales. To this day, both of us can sing all the words of the sponsor’s song which extolled the benefits of eating Cream of Wheat.

Some teenage members of my family loved to see how much they could scare us younger kids, when, on Sunday nights, they insisted on turning out the lights while we listened to “Inner Sanctum.” I am certain that my subsequent nightmares were directly related to having been exposed to those programs.

I was also obsessed with the afternoon serials, Stella Dallas and Young Widder Brown. I didn’t mind doing household chores like dusting or ironing if, at the same time, I could catch up on the trials and tribulations of those beleaguered characters.

I was less than enthusiastic when my parents and Bubbie listened to H. V. Kaltenborn. I couldn’t understand why they hung onto every word he said. Sometimes, when he talked about events in Europe, they became very agitated. When I asked them what was going on, they tried to simplify the happenings of the day without frightening me.

Although I have no actual memory of it, I’ve been told that one of the major events of radio during the 30’s happened in 1938 when Orson Wells dramatization of the War of the Worlds was supposedly interrupted by a “news flash” stating that there had been an invasion in New Jersey by Martians As members of the audience sat on the edge of their collective seat, actors playing news announcers, officials and other roles one would expect to be in a press release, described the landing of an invasion force from Mars and the imminent destruction of the United States. It was so realistic that wide-spread panic ensued.

When I had finished describing this event to my grandkids, I added that something like this could probably never happen with a television program.Viewers would quickly realize it to be a dramatization. “Yes,” said one of the Shana Punims, “and we’re a lot smarter than you were when you were a kid.” I wanted to deny his conclusion but something inside said “maybe he’s got a point.”

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