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
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
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
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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