Tuning in history

My great-grandmother had a 4-foot-tall radio set in her living room. She’d had it for years by the time I was old enough to turn it on and tune around the dial in the mid-1960s.

Click. Then an orange glow would light the dial and a slight hum would come from the speaker. After a few moments, the set’s wonderful, rich tone filled the room — as did the aroma of pre-solid-state electronics, as the radio’s tubes warmed.

In 1930, 12 million U.S. homes were enjoying that ritual each day. The Golden Age of Radio had taken off the year before when the NBC Blue Network picked up a syndicated program from Chicago, Amos & Andy, for national broadcast. Within 10 years, radio sets were in 30 million homes across the nation. And programs such as The Jack Benny Show and The Shadow were entertaining audiences coast to coast. It’s easy to imagine a number of those listeners also reading a pulp magazine at the same time.

Though old time radio signed off on Sept. 30, 1962, with the last episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on CBS, it’s not too late to kick back in a comfortable chair, pick up your favorite pulp story and listen to a classic program as you read.

If you want something to listen to that will take you back in time, you’ve got numerous choices.

Looking for a pulp character on radio? There’s a new collection just for you. Radio Spirits released The Shadow: Radio’s Greatest Mystery Man as part of its Legends of Radio series of tapes and compact discs. The collection contains 20 half-hour episodes and includes selections from 1937 through 1948 featuring Orson Welles, Bill Johnstone, John Archer and Bret Morrison as The Shadow. It costs $35 for 10 cassette tapes and $40 for 10 CDs. The collection also includes a 32-page booklet by Shadow historian Anthony Tollin. Radio Spirits also offers several other collections of The Shadow radio programs through its catalog or its website.

In addition to selling old time radio programs on tapes or CDs, Radio Spirits also produces a trio of programs — When Radio Was, Radio Super Heroes and Radio Movie Classics — that rebroadcast old programs on radio stations. Check Radio Spirits’ website under the On The Radio tab to look up a station near you that carries the programs. The programs are also available through Radio Classics on XM and Sirius satellite radio, online and some cable systems.

If you expect to be reading for a while, take a tip from Chuck Welch that he posted on his DocSavage.info website: Tune in Sept. 21, 1939. WJSV, an AM station in Washington, D.C., transcribed to disc its 19-hour broadcast day, beginning at 6:30 a.m. with Sundial with Arthur Godfrey and concluding with the Bob Chester Orchestra at half past midnight. In between, there were soap operas, quiz shows, dramas, comedies, an address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an hour of a baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Senators and news.

Thanks to the Internet, that day lives on through streaming audio. Visit A Day in Radio website to tune in some free, authentic period background.

Turn on, tune in and pulp out.