I know I’ve touched on this topic before, but I’ll try to express it again, hopefully in different words.
As any person who can still remember old radio programs will tell you, they could be more frightening than anything you’ll see on network television today.
The reason is simple to explain — our imaginations are more powerful than anything a modern code of censorship could possibly regulate. If, for instance, a main character said “don’t shoot,” we could picture in our mind how the assailant’s eyes looked and how the intended victim could tremor with fright and, perhaps, cringe and turn slightly away.
Perhaps there would be a smile or a smirk on the intended shooter’s face as the shot rang out. You get the picture.
On the other hand, someone else might see the victim smile and even turn away from the assailant and know that somebody was about to come through the door and save the situation.
In your mind’s eye, you “saw” what you wanted to see in a radio drama.
And, along that same line, we could, for instance, “see” a mischievous young girl named Baby Snooks — who was actually a 60-year-old former vaudevillian named Fanny Brice.
Without a picture, we couldn’t determine the age of a radio performer. And, to be perfectly blunt about it, we didn’t need or want to.
I may be seen as jumping away from the subject but things will all come together eventually.
When I operated the used book store “Huckleberry Books,” I began to be interested in fictitious books about Northwest crime written by Northwest authors. I recently sold my complete collection, for far less than I paid for it, I must admit.
The book that I had paid the most for was by an author named John Dunning, who just happened to be a bookseller himself and who wrote about a crime solver who also was a seller of used books.
John Dunning is well known among fans of old radio shows because, in addition to writing a series of crime books based on locations in the Northwest, he also wrote the most complete history of radio programs ever published in a book called “The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio,” an 812-page book devoted to complete listings of titles, casts, sponsors, the dates of production, the length the series ran, the city from where it was originally produced, etc.
Such a listing could vary from four or five lines for a little-known program such as “Now it Can Be Told” to over seven pages for The Jack Benny Show, four and a half pages for Bing Crosby, half a page for his brother, Bob Crosby, four pages for Bob Hope and seven pages for “Fibber McGee and Molly”!
The index of programs and performers at the back of the book is 62 pages long with three loaded vertical lines per page, so you can deduce that it is a very comprehensive collection of information — information which likely wouldn’t be interesting to 96% or 97% of our population today.
It isn’t on the list of books available through Timberland Library but, then, I didn’t really expect it would be. It’s apparently out of print today but used copies are available online for about $15 through book finder sources.
My own copy will not be available until my ashes are scattered from the top of the Seminary Hill Natural Area. In the meantime, I saw online that those younger than their 70s may find access to radio programs.
Some websites provide thousands of shows you can download and listen to for free.
Might be more enjoyable than the news?
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.