In recent years the Federal Communications Commission, the outfit that’s supposed to regulate everything from radio and television stations to cell phone companies, has started cracking down on so-called radio “shock jocks,” accusing them of breaking the FCC’s decency code. What a shock.
After reading a story about the “shocking” things being said on radio stations around the country, I began thinking of my Uncle Rob, my father’s brother. Uncle Rob had lived in New York for a while back in the 1940s and ’50s and even worked, at various times, for both CBS and NBC. He always had great stories to tell about his time in radio and I never tired of listening to them.
Being born just after World War II, I was just in time to hear the tail end of what they now call radio’s “Golden Age.” Our local radio station was WRKD in Rockland, which was pretty tame even by 1950s standards.
Sometimes on Sunday nights, as we sat in the parlor waiting for a show to come on, Uncle Rob would entertain us with stories about the radio days he remembered.
He said when he worked for the networks, they would regularly perform original radio dramas before live studio audiences.
“And people in those days would dress for a radio show like they were going to the opera,” Uncle Rob would say. “All the announcers and performers wore tuxedos and gowns and all our evening presentations emphasized high culture.”
Uncle Rob would chuckle and say back in the 1930s, things were so different. He said he once heard a radio executive wonder aloud if “tooth brushing” was too personal a function to mention on the radio. Considering what goes over the airwaves these days, it makes me laugh again just thinking about it.
In may not sound too classy to us, but in those days radio shows and performers were often named after the program sponsors. My Uncle Rob told me about the Gold Dust Twins, Goldy and Dusty, whose show was sponsored by Gold Dust laundry detergent. Pretty clever, huh? “The Happiness Boys” were sponsored by Happiness Candy Stores, and “The Interwoven Pair” had Interwoven Socks as a sponsor.
I suppose those early performers can be grateful that Preparation H didn’t sponsor a radio show – at least I don’t think they did.
Uncle Rob said radio’s so-called Golden Age began in about 1926, the year that NBC was formed, and lasted until 1949, the year television’s revenues first surpassed radio’s. After that, radio’s revenues began to decline.
Being a kid, I didn’t know care anything about golden ages or radio revenues but I did care a lot about “The Shadow,” “The Green Hornet,” “Gang Busters” and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” I’d listen to Sgt. Preston every week and never even knew where the Yukon was.
One of the most popular radio shows of all time was “Amos ‘n Andy,” and I can still remember lying on the parlor floor listening to it. I can also remember how surprised I was to learn that Amos and Andy were in fact two white men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who created and played the roles of two black men. In the show they operated the Fresh Air Taxi Company.
At their height of their popularity, Gosden and Correll earned $100,000 a year, making them the highest-paid radio entertainers in the country.
John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.