I am three, maybe four, years old and if I could read a calendar I would see that the year is 1949 and the month is March in western Pennsylvania. The large bay windows admit a thin lemony light that warms neither my bare legs nor the grey flowered linoleum of the cold dining room floor.
My mother is ironing sheets and without her noticing I crawl closer to the wooden ironing board. As the freshly ironed cloth slowly descends from above, I wiggle under the sheet creating a tent-like hideaway. Soon I am enveloped in the sheet’s warm scent of fresh spring air and Niagara Starch. I close my eyes in a catlike trance.
In the background the radio plays. It is a large, wooden Philco floor model with a row of buttons above the dial for pre-set stations, and a phonograph turntable below. The bottom of the radio cabinet houses the speakers behind lattice and cloth. From the speakers a voice announces…
“And now, The Romance of Helen Trent, the real-life drama of Helen Trent, who, when life mocks her, breaks her hopes, dashes her against the rocks of despair, fights back bravely, successfully, to prove what so many women long to prove, that because a woman is 35 or more, romance in life need not be over, that romance can begin at 35.”
I remember my mother listening to the radio serials everyday while she did the housework. After The Romance of Helen Trent came Ma Perkins, The Guiding Light and Young Doctor Malone.
My father worked at night and often our neighbor, Mimi Semon, would come over and join my mother in listening to the evening schedule of shows. They would pull out their knitting or embroidery, pore cups of Red Rose tea and between catching up on the latest neighborhood gossip listen to Inner Sanctum, Gang Busters, The Mercury Theater, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, Fiber McGee and Molly and dozens more.
Because of that early environment so many years ago I am a radio drama junkie. Even today I have a vivid recollection of listening to an episode of The Lone Ranger in which my favorite hero was caught in a blizzard and became snow blind! Would he recover, I wondered? Where was Tonto?
What I still enjoy most about listening to radio drama today is that there are no pictures to look at; therefore, you are free to move around, work on something, or just lie back and let your imagination paint the pictures for you. That reliance upon hearing the story stayed with me as I grew older and eventually led to my becoming a writer. When I write, I hear the stories, or the copy, in my head just like I was listening to the radio.
Radio drama died out in the late 50’s and early 60’s with the rise of television so probably most of the people reading this blog have never experienced the real magic of radio. Luckily the internet now is providing access to some of these old shows. One of my favorite – and free – sites is Old Time Radio at www.otr.net . The library contains over 12,000 episodes of shows in all types of categories from comedy and suspense to mystery and drama. One of my favorites is The Lives of Harry Lime with Orson Wells which is a prequel to the movie The Third Man.
Another site to check out is BBC radio four. In addition to many old radio shows, the BBC also features more current productions. The site is http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4extra/programmes/schedules.
Maybe some people will find those old show kind of hokey now and dated but it gives me that feeling of sitting around the campfire and telling stories. Give them a try. Happy listening!