Old Time Radio - Radio Theatre Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Old Time Radio - Radio Theatre

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It's hard to say in these days of Cable Television and WAP wireless Internet what we did before technology took over. What did we do after the dinner was made, eaten and put away after? What did we do after the day's chores had been finished? Well, today it's rare that a family eats together, let alone sits down and does stuff together. But it wasn't always so. Once upon a time... there was radio!

The Golden Age of Radio

The true time span for what is commonly called 'The Golden Age of Radio' can be traced back to the First World War, when the American President Woodrow Wilson used the radio to address the American public. The era is said to have ended on 20 September, 1962, when the shows Suspense and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar were aired for the last time on the CBS radio network.

It could be said that there was a resurgence in radio interest with the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the 1970s but nothing quite matched up to the 60+ years of laughter, terror and inter-planetary exploration that happened in the Golden Age of Radio.

The Main Players

As with music, films and books, opinions on what makes good radio is by and large subjective. Some find that the comedy of Jack Benny or Bob Hope will, after 40 or 50 years, be funnier than anything that today's comics could offer. Some would say that Howard Koch and Orson Welles terrified more people in one hour than Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Cilla Black ever could in a lifetime. One could argue that there has never been another Flash Gordon worthy of battling the Emperor Ming since Gabe Gordon.

Some great American radio shows that you may have heard of are:

  • Superman
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Tarzan
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Saint
  • Philip Marlow
  • Sam Spade
  • Fibber McGee and Molly
  • The Great Gildersleeve
  • Amos and Andy

And these are just a few of the shows that aired in America during the Golden Age of Radio.


It is very true that the Golden Age of Radio was predominantly American, but one fact cannot be denied - the BBC in Great Britain has never stopped producing good quality radio programming. The Golden Age of British Radio could be argued to stem from the mid-40s after the Second World War ended right up to the mid-60s. The nation was enthralled each week by the madcap lunacy of:

  • The Goon Show
  • Beyond Our Ken
  • Round The Horne
  • The Navy Lark
  • Sherlock Holmes (there he is again)

But when America's golden age died the BBC just kept going, albeit under a new and expanded guise after the expansion of the airwaves to the numbered stations we know today with Radio 4 and The World Service offering the majority of the UK's Radio Theatre output.

In the past 25 years so much of today's culture has sprung from the radio. Many don't realise (except those who are reading this) that without The BBC there would be no HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy. For it was good ol auntie that produced the show and aired it. There would be no Red Dwarf… that started from the radio also. Other shows that have transferred from Radio to popular Television shows are:

  • Goodness Gracious Me
  • Dead Ringers

The Radio Today

Today, there is very little radio produced other than the regular music channels. The last bastions of radio theatre emanate from the BBC. To highlight the fact the BBC has just released a digital radio channel Radio 7 that broadcasts nothing but radio comedy drama and books.

In America, the equivalent of the BBC, NPR (National Public Radio), offers re-runs of old 'Golden Age' shows and occasionally will produce new drama; one notable mention of an NPR dramatisation is the reworking of the Star Wars trilogy. There are other pockets of radio civilisation out there, most notably Australia, South Africa and the CBC in Canada.

Be it old radio or new radio, it really is worth giving your eyes a break and letting your third eye do the thinking for a while.

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