The sun set on the Golden Age of Radio roughly two decades before I was even born. By the 1970s, the warm glow of the living room radio dial had long been washed out in a cathode ray bath. I’m not going to lie and say that I feel I missed out on a special time in American entertainment — I’m more of a classic TV man — I have to admit there is something compelling about what is now known as Old-Time Radio.
So, inspired by a recent 75th anniversary broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, I decided to blow the dust off a radio time machine I’ve had for years — my six-record collection called Jack Benny Presents the Treasury of Golden Memories of Radio. It was issued in 1969 on the Longines Symphonette Recording Symphony label.
Over the course of twelve vinyl sides, Benny narrates the listener through some of radio’s biggest performers and moments. The first side, which I’m presenting today, kicks off with a violin solo and series introduction from the man himself. It then spends its remaining time highlighting some of the best comedy old time radio had to offer.
The first clip we hear is from Fibber McGee & Molly, specifically the timeless sound effect gag of Fibber’s hall closet spilling its crammed contents all over the place. The idea behind running this first is to acquaint — or reacquaint depending on your age — the notion that radio relied on the listener’s imagination for its potency. The implication, of course, was that it wasn’t as lazy as TV tended to be.
Up next is a clip of Benny and his wife, Mary Livingstone, cracking wise on Bing Crosby’s Philco Radio Time show. My research indicates that this show was broadcast on March 26, 1947. Philco Radio Time debuted in October ’46 and ran for almost three years and just over 100 episodes.
The comedy continues with a choice segment from the legendary George Burns and Gracie Allen. I don’t really get the references in this bit — I had never heard of Charles Boyer — and personally I find the Crosby segment to be funnier, but it’s still a gas to hear the pair at work.
After a brief memorial mention of the recently deceased Eddie Cantor, the remainder of side 1 is a bit from the Amos ‘n’ Andy, that most popular and controversial show. Putting the issue of period racism aside for a moment, the jokes come easy and land well. I think this and the Philco Radio Time segment were the two strongest on this side, which is no easy feat considering how much more quickly comedy ages as opposed to drama.