Sunday, September 30, 2012

It was fifty years ago today...

September 30th, 1962 was a pretty normal day for most people. The Cubs beat the Mets, but back then almost anyone could do that. I suppose most folks didn't realize that day marked the end of a truly momentous era in US history. September 30th, 1962 was the official end of the Golden Age of Radio.

It wasn't "the day the music died" or anything like that. It was the day the music almost completely took over the airways of the country. The final two episodes of the last two network dramatic radio programs aired on September 30th, 1962: Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Until the recent days of on-demand video on the Internet, there wasn't anything that came close to the entertainment, advertising, and informational value of radio. Radio was the first medium that touched almost every single American household at the same time. The raw immediacy of the form struck a nerve that soon formed a powerful industry out of a fledgling hobby.

The Golden Age of Radio, from the thirties to the early sixties, saw media and entertainment dynasties formed, many of which still exist today. Powerhouses like the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the National Broadcasting Company (now NBC and ABC) down to fan favorites like American Bandstand owe their longevity and socio-economic impact to those glory days.

There was so much wonderful content produced back then: Comedy by the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and drama by Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and Orson Welles. You can still hear the report of the destruction of the Hindenburg, FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech, and Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series.

We're lucky that there is a large number of old-time radio programs that still survive. There are literally thousands of them that you can find on the Internet and listen to for free. But there is so much that either was not transcribed to record or tape, or that had the recordings carelessly or callously destroyed over the decades that it is almost criminal; A lot of creative people, a lot of daily events, a lot of life that deserves to be remembered is gone forever.

Perhaps this won't happen again. I'm constantly amazed at the old TV shows I can find lurking in dusty corners of the Internet. Maybe we're finally in an era where everything about our society will be kept, either for nostalgia's sake or whatever. When I think about the end of radio's Golden Age back in 1962, I have to wonder if that's something that could happen to radio again. Talk radio is still growing and pushing music stations off the air - political pundits are apparently much more soothing to people than pop music now. One would really hope that America has learned its lesson and will stand up and support free entertainment.

One would also think Honey Boo Boo wouldn't have become a hit either. We do seem to like to watch the train wreck instead of taking the logs off the tracks.

For those of you interesting, here are the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, courtesy of

Two other links I'd like to post in commemoration of this day:

WJSV Complete Broadcast Day: Also available on is this unique broadcast. WJSV in Washington recorded their entire day of programming on September 21st, 1939. I've always thought it was one of the truly unique moments of radio, as you can listen to how it was done, from 6am sign-on to the final sign-off at night. .

Lum and Abner Comic Strip: Lum and Abner was a popular program of radio's Golden Age, and one of the funniest. Artist Donnie Pitchford has created a syndicated comic strip based on Pine Ridge, Arkansas' premier citizens, which is posted every Sunday at  To my knowledge, it is really the only radio-related property being used in any form right now, and is a great strip to boot.

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