Remembering golden age of radio, childhood

Published 12:12 am Saturday, May 7, 2016

Tucked away in my house are some “Golden Age” radio tapes that take me back to childhood. All I have to do is click a button on the tape player and it happens. A familiar tune with the lyrics tout the merits of a breakfast cereal—Cream of Wheat. Even after all these years, I recognize the tune and know every word.

Perhaps ten years ago, the tapes surfaced in a drawer. My husband clicked the button and was amazed as I sang along: “Cream of Wheat is so good to eat and we have it every day. We sing this song, it will make us strong and make us shout ‘Hurrah!’ It’s good for growing babies and grown-ups, too, to eat. For all the family’s breakfast, you can’t beat Cream of Wheat.”

It probably had been over 40 years since I had heard that song. It introduced “Let’s Pretend,” a children’s radio program of fairy tales and classic stories. It aired every Saturday morning around ten o’clock. I loved it and missed it only if I couldn’t get to a radio. The cast featured juveniles, many of whom went on to more drama roles. The program, “Let’s Pretend,” a Peabody Award winner, was judged as radio’s outstanding children’s theatre. It was on the air from 1934 through 1954.

How I loved that program. As an only child with a vivid imagination, I got swept away into enchanted forests where good fairies wore flowing white dresses and scary, mean witches were robed in flowing black capes. I got so absorbed in the program that it seemed to me it was the shortest one on the radio.

I stayed on pins and needles as the plot moved forward. I cringed when the witch cackled as she did her evil deeds. In my mind’s eye, I saw her throw back her head and fly away. I sighed with relief at the end of the performance when good always triumphed over evil.

For me, that was the joy and fascination of radio drama. As a listener, I pictured the actors, the scenery, and the action.

During summertime school vacation, I enjoyed a long-running weekly morning program called “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club.” He had a wonderful voice. I pictured him as a very handsome man. Years later, when that program appeared on television, I was disappointed because he did not look like I envisioned him. He did not fit the image I created for him.

I listened to another program featuring the golden-voiced Ted Malone. He often read poetry. I also pictured him as very good looking.

On certain nights, my parents and I looked forward to Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Lum and Abner. Another weekly family favorite was One Man’s Family, the longest-running uninterrupted dramatic serial in the history of American radio.

I am thankful for the tapes, since there is nothing left today to compare with the “Golden Age” radio I so enjoyed.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.