The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

July 12, 2014

Jim Bailey: The days we sat around watching the radio

Kids today cannot imagine what it was like when radio was king.

People sat in their living rooms, their attention glued to a large piece of furniture, maybe a floor model or later a table model. Sound came out of it — but no picture. You literally watched the set, and your imagination provided the picture out of what was coming over the loudspeaker.

Singing cowboys were big then. Roy Rogers. Gene Autry. The Lone Ranger. They also did movies, but the narratives translated well over the radio. Sound effects helped form the imagery: small rubber plungers beating rhythmically on a board made the sound of galloping horses. A small frame door opening and closing. Walking on a gravel road or the snow was easily duplicated by squeezing a bag of cornstarch. And so on.

Almost every show had a theme song. Gene Autry’s was “Back in the Saddle Again.” The Lone Ranger has always relied on “The William Tell Overture.” Jack Benny came on to the sound of “Hooray for Hollywood.” Judy Canova always signed off by singing “Go to Sleep My Little Baby.”

A few shows relied on signature sounds, such as Inner Sanctum’s squeaking door or Dagwood’s plaintive call, “B-L-O-O-O-N-DIE-E-E!” for the radio version of the comic strip classic.

Sitcoms were dominant then, and downright respectable compared to today’s twisted television comedies. They were referred to in the longhand back then as situation comedies. Besides Jack Benny and Judy Canova, they included Our Miss Brooks, Dennis Day (he was also a regular on Jack Benny, referring to himself as “the little man with two shows”), Baby Snooks, December Bride, The Great Gildersleeve and others.

Comedians such as Bob Hope and Red Skelton also had radio shows before television. "Amos & Andy" was one of the biggest, a stereotypical dialect show in the days before it came to be regarded as demeaning, though in reality it poked fun at the stereotypes rather than at racial characteristics.

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