In the 1920's, the first radio broadcast stations began airing programs; news and world events. By 1932, radio entertainment included soap operas. The earliest of these programs included Judy and Jane (1932-1935), Just Plain Bill (1932-1955), and Pepper Young's Family (1932-1959) One of the the most famous radio soap operas was Ma Perkins which ran from 1933 through 1960! The Guiding Light, a long-running TV soap opera, actually started on radio. It ran from 1937 to 1956.
From the 1930's and throughout much of the 1950's, is referred to as the Golden Age of Radio. Radio ownership grew quickly; from two out of five homes in 1933 to four out of five homes by 1938. Radio made the world smaller. Almost everyone had access to news, sports, and popular music of the day. By 1942, 82 out of 100 Americans were radio listeners. Most radio programs were broadcast live in these early days. In addition to the radio "soaps" other programming popular during the Golden Age included; quiz shows, variety hours, talent shows, situation comedies, and children's shows. The programs of the early 1920's were largely unsponsored and stations were a service designed to sell radio receivers. But that all changed in the late 1920's. Radio had gown so in populatity that it had reached critical mass and had saturated the marketplace. This necessitated a change in the way business was conducted. The sponsored musical feature became a popular format. Most early sponsorships came in the form of naming rights to the various programs (The A & P Gypsies, King Biscuit Time, and Champion Spark Plug Hour...to name a few). Commercials, as we know them today were uncommon and considered intrusive (ahh...the good ol' days, right?) During the 1930's and 1940's the Big Bands of the day were often heard via remote broadcasts. Radio attracted top comedy acts from Vaudville and Hollywood for many years; Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and Groucho Marx were only a few of the big names that could be heard on the radio. Many of these early radio stars transitioned to TV in the 1950's, thus extending their careers by decades.
Some radio programs originated as stage productions, while others began life as comic strips. (Blondie, Gasoline Alley, Li'l Abner, and Popeye the Sailor, etc) Conversely, some radio programs gave birth to comis strips, such as My Friend Irma. And what discussion of radio would be complete without a mention of Orson Welles Mercury Theater production of War of the Worlds that aired on October 30th, 1938. This was a realistic radio dramatisation of a Martian invasion of Earth that sent most of the country into panic!
By the end of 2012, there were over 15,000 licensed broadcast radio stations in the US, according to the FCC (Federal Communication Commission). Radio has undergone many changes in it's long and proud history. And radio continues to change with the modern times. It's almost a right-of-passage to listen to pop tunes while driving in the car on the way to school, out on a date, or just hangin' out with friends.
Most of us can remember hearing about major national events, first, on the radio, before seeing it later on the evening news. Radio impacts us daily. We always have the radio on...in the car, on our computers, and even on our cell phones. Although radio may no longer be in it's Golden Age, we rely on it for entertainment and news, just as we did back in the 1920's.
Saturday is National Radio Day. What better way to celebrate than by listening to your favorite radio station. Got a favorite DJ? Give him, or her, a shout out on social media using #NationalRadioDay.
From the pocket transitor radios of the late 1950's to the giant boombox of today, the latest music, weather, news, sports, and talk is just a click of a button away.