First place, adult fiction.
by Alex Yakunin
In the years before the advent of television, “Prime Time” was that magical hour between supper time and bedtime. The whole family would gather in the living room around the radio and listen to the magical sounds that came over the airwaves.
Our radio was a huge console model with a hand-crafted cabinet of exotic woods with fancy, scalloped cutouts where the music emerged. Above the speakers were knobs, dials and a small panel that glowed in the dark. If you peeked in back of the cabinet, you could see glowing electron tubes scattered amongst an array of dusty wires and mysterious, rectangular biscuit tins. Although the tubes gleamed dimply, they did produce enough heat to warm your hands on a cold winter evening.
When Dad twirled the dials, the radio hummed, gave a few reluctant crackles and squeals, then came to life. A garbled voice gradually took on human tones and the outside world floated into our home. It was time to sit back and enjoy our favourite programs. Those wonderful broadcasts featured show-business immortals like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Ozzie and Harriet, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen. These were just a few of the headliners.
Each night there was a different episode, not just a series of rapid fire jokes but a real life story that you could relate to. Through the magic of sound and visualization, those invisible radio people came into our home and became part of our lives. As the voices conjured up brilliant technicolour images, my brother Bob and I would sit enthralled, with our eyelids closed, engrossed in those wonderful adventures.
Besides the comedic geniuses mentioned earlier, there were soap operas, dramas and super heroes too. The soap operas were continuing stories, like Pepper Young’s Family and Ma Perkins, shows that continued from week to week and went on forever. As we grew into adulthood and were allowed to stay up later, Lux Radio Theatre became a marvellous Sunday evening treat. This dramatic series was hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, the famous movie director. He treated our family to a full hour of exciting, engrossing shows, featuring movie stars in the leading roles. Before the show began, DeMille introduced the actors, explained the story line and laid out the setting. There was a short musical prelude, a Lux Soap commercial and then our imaginations took over. We were amidst the action immediately, melding with our heroes as they endured a perilous adventure or fought against the forces of darkness and evil.
I remember Superman differently than he is portrayed in movies and television today. These mediums produce an image created by someone else, but radio allowed the listener freedom to use his own imagination, and imagination has no boundaries. Today, Superman flies across the TV screen in slow motion, with both arms extended, as if he were lying on a table. You don’t get that sensation of speed in the pit of your stomach like we did from the radio. Our imaginations took flight as Superman hurtled through space with the speed of a thunderbolt. Our radio Superman performed power-dives, loops, swirls, giant swooping curves, rescued beautiful maidens, captured evil villains, lifted entire buildings up by their roots and carried shiploads of people to safety.
Superman wasn’t alone in never-never land. Batman and Robin, The Green Hornet and Kato, The Shadow, and my all-time favourite Captain Marvel, visited our home via radio waves. Captain Marvel didn’t waste precious minutes stripping off his clothes inside a phone booth. His alter-ego, Billy Powers, just hollered “SHAZAM,” and a lightning bolt shot out of the sky and transformed him into Captain Marvel. Instant alteration by lightning bolt is something they cant’ do on television, even with the aid of animation. After listening to a few episodes of Captain Marvel, Bob and I were inspired to race around the backyard with dish towels pinned to our shoulders. We even tried a few flying leaps from the top of the doghouse, much to the dismay of our dog Sport.
The radio westerns were superb, although those singing cowboys didn’t belong in the rugged West as far as Bob and I were concerned. Our idols were real he-men like the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Cisco and Zorro, along with their faithful sidekicks, Tonto, Pancho, Frog and Gabby. And their horses had outstanding names, like Silver, Champion, Diablo and Thunder, names that could conjure up an image just by saying the word. When your hero galloped across the air waves, you were right there, in the thick of the dust and the action. You could hear the horses snorting, hooves clattering, guns popping and leather creaking. When Zorro cracked his whip, you straightened up in a hurry and checked to make sure yo were safe in the living room. Yesiree, those were the days. It was wonderful to be a kid and look forward to a visit with your heroes.