Book Review: This Was Radio by Ronald Lackmann

Isn’t media wonderful? Here I am writing a post for the Internet that I will share on social media about a hardcover book which describes the early days of radio. If I could find a way to throw television in somewhere I’d have every form of media covered!

But rather than do that I will start by showing the publication in question:

11 1/2″ x 14″ Hardcover, 70 Pages

ISBN: 07413-0038-9

I love all-things vintage. And if I can find a Disney tie-in along the way more the better! This publication was published in 2000 by the Great American Audio Corporation. It was written by Ronald Lackmann with an introduction by Leonard Maltin.

The book is divided into 10 chapters which first cover the invention of radio before seguing into the different genres, such as comedy, children’s programming, and talk shows, among others. Chapter 10 provides a brief sum-up of radio’s impact on popular culture.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

If it’s entertainment history, it’s Leonard Maltin

I love the reporting of this man! He has done many introductions for Disney productions and is a well-known champion of entertainment history. He, like myself, feels that the shows of the past should be remembered and studied.

In the early days of radio, two companies were major competitors in setting up networks that crossed the United States. They were:

    

Other smaller companies would join the party and the government would later step in with regulations to balance out the content.

And what was in that content?

Lucille Ball’s first stint as a wife was on radio

Mr. Inka Dinka Doo got his big push on radio

And even dummies made it big!

Another Disney tie-in comes from a famous Disney star. From Chapter One: “As performers realized how many people were “tuned in” to radio broadcasts, entertainers like… vaudeville comedian Ed “The Perfect Fool” Wynn decided they might be able to increase the size of their audiences by performing “on radio” for thousands, instead of a mere hundreds of fans. Wynn was heard on one of the first important, well-publicized aired-live comedy shows… Wynn decided to broadcast on a regular basis, becoming one of radio’s first major stars (with the Ed Wynn Show, later called The Fire Chief).”

But it wasn’t all fun and game shows on radio. News broadcasters soon found that radio was a great way to spread fear and panic, er… I mean informative political and social commentary. Some of what was covered was quite chilling:

From political commentary to the bomb

So if you needed to know it back in the day, you learned of it on radio! Of course, we all know that in time television did come along to overshadow that little talking box in the corner. But it never gave up the fight and is still around today, if only for talk and musical purposes.

But if you’re like me you yearn for the days when The Lone Ranger, gangsters, monsters from outer space, funny comedians, and famous actors all ‘appeared’ over the airwaves!

Review: I’d give this book 4 out of 5 Stars. It is a very comprehensive listing of the programming from the early days of radio with a nice selection of behind-the-scenes photographs. For those not that into radio it will seem a bit like a laundry list of shows with not enough context, but as this book was written for the über fan, that hardly diminishes the books validity.

The book also contains two compact discs with a smattering of old-time radio broadcasts.

Original Radio Broadcast Long Play Records

Although I love Disney, it doesn’t have a stranglehold on my interests. My attention turns to anything interesting and especially vintage!

This post contains no less than ten LPs I found at a local flea market. And what they contain is pure entertainment gold:

The Shadow Knows!

The Shadow is a vigilante crimefighter and one of the most famous adventure heroes of the twentieth century. He has been featured on the radio, in a long-running pulp magazine series, in comic books, comic strips, television, serials, video games, and at least five films.

The character debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the Street and Smith radio program Detective Story Hour developed in an effort to boost sales of Detective Story Magazine. Later a magazine based around The Shadow was created. The first issue of The Shadow Magazine went on sale on April 1, 1931. On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama, a new radio series based on the character, debuted. And the rest is history!

The most famous man to voice The Shadow was Orson Welles. And by coincidence, the next two LPs I found feature him:

     Original Radio Broadcasts 013

Many may not know that Welles got his start in radio. He did a little show with The Mercury Theatre on the Air called War of the Worlds (October 30, 1938) which threw a whole nation into panic and chaos. But it certainly got Welles some attention!

The copy of War of the Worlds that I have is not the original broadcast, but a reproduction of the play by The Lux Radio Theatre done on February 8, 1955.

Keeping with the science fiction and adventure genre:

The Green Hornet visits Germany?

Original Radio Broadcasts 003

The Green Hornet and Kato

A masked crime-fighter created 1936 who first appeared on radio. The character appeared in film serials in the 1940s, a network television program in the 1960s (co-starring Bruce Lee as Kato), multiple comic book series from the 1940s on, and a feature film in 2011.

The Green Hornet is the alter ego of Britt Reid, wealthy young publisher of the Daily Sentinel newspaper. By night Reid dons a long green overcoat, green fedora hat and green mask to fight crime as a vigilante. He is accompanied by Kato who drives their technologically advanced car, the “Black Beauty”. The twist for this character is that he is believed to be a criminal, a cover he uses to infiltrate the underworld and foil their plans.

Let’s continue with another fictional character that focuses more on thinking than punching:

     Original Radio Broadcasts 010

Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone played Holmes and Nigel Bruce played Watson in fourteen U.S. films from 1939 to 1946, and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the Mutual radio network from 1939 to 1946.

The top LP features two half-hour episodes from the radio New Adventures series and features some nice, if simplified, artwork on the cover. For many of these old LPs it is the covers that draw in the collectors!

The bottom two LPs feature a more generic cover with only the text changing. Not as interesting for collectors, but easier to produce for the art department!

Next I have two LPs that feature some of the finest non-Sherlockian mystery shows:

Original Radio Broadcasts 005    

Many A-list actors and actresses took a turn at radio in the early days, some even lending their names to the programs, such as Mystery in the Air with Peter Lorre.

Other times, the radio program was popular enough to be made into a movie:

The Fat Man was popular during the 1940s and early 1950s. The detective started out anonymous but rapidly acquired the name ‘Brad Runyon’. Broadcast from the studios of WJZ in Newark, New Jersey, the series premiered on the ABC Radio Network on Monday, January 21, 1946, and ran until 1951. In that year, 1951, it was finally made into a movie for the silver screen.

Original Radio Broadcasts 008The first Thin Man movie was released in 1934 and spawned many successful sequels. The movies were popular because of the volatile relationship between the main leads. It was a natural to recreate this chemistry on radio!

OK, let’s lighten up things a bit!

My favorite comedy duo of all time! From silent films to talkies, these two comedians had no equal. Their low-key approach stood in stark contrast to the frantic antics of other popular acts of the day which only served to endear them to fans and critics alike!

Original Radio Broadcasts 015

This LP features some skits taken from movies and short subjects filmed between 1929 and 1940. Think of it as more of a comedy album than a soundtrack.

Fun Line: “Well, you can’t fool the doctor some of the time, and you can’t fool the doctor part of the time, because you’ll only be fooling yourself all of the time!” – Stan

I look forward to sitting in the dark and listening to these great old programs! Now, at the end of this post, I’d just like to remind my readers that “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay… The Shadow knows!”