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Miles of Memories: Before television, we had our radio

by Brenda Miles | November 21, 2020 at 8:30 p.m.

Growing up, there was hardly an hour in the day that the old Zenith radio in its brown plastic housing with its large face and dials was not turned on for our listening enjoyment. It sat on the kitchen counter where it was listened to all morning, beginning with Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club. We had our news and then stayed tuned in later for the Arthur Godfrey Hour. He began by strumming his uke and shouting, “H’wa ya’ “H’wa ya’!” and entertained us with his lame jokes. He often featured Julius La Rosa who Willie didn’t care for. Once Mr. Godfrey said a very cold rain was falling out of dark skies as he looked out the studio window, “It’s just a damp ugly day.” But he went light on the consonant “p” at the end of the word damp. Willie Mae shook her head and declared, “That man orta’ not say that kinda’ thing on the redio with chil’ren ’listenin’!” And I still remember both their quotes!

After Willie cleared the table from “dinner,” we listened to “Bride and Groom” before I took my nap. I’ve told you before how I walked down our hall wearing my old lace curtain ‘veil’ and got married five days a week. When Mama was home from the store she always listened to “Stella Dallas” and “One Life to Live.” These were fifteen minute shows, but gave enough time for Mama to cry a bit when her heroines were going through a difficult time. She continued to watch her soap “One Life to Live” through its entry into television before it went off the air. By the way, these shows came to be referred to as “soaps” or “soap operas” because of their sponsorship of soap companies, mainly Proctor & Gamble in the old days. Of course, soap companies also sponsored some night time shows–remember the Borax team that introduced “Death Valley Days?”

Back to afternoon radio… I have such fond memories of those summer afternoons while playing in our back yard. Cicadas often began singing early… I would be out back by the hedge, putting my dolls down for their naps in a doll bed I’d gotten for Christmas while singing to them, usually Brahms’s Lullaby. Nearby, Arvis would be mowing the large side yard and the smell of new-mown grass filled the air. On our screened-in back porch, Willie would be ironing and from the radio placed atop the freezer, I heard her beloved Cardinals’ broadcast as they played the foe of the day. Harry Caray was announcing the plays and the drone of the radio added to the sounds of the afternoon. Once in awhile, I heard his excited voice elevate when he shouted, “Holy Cow!” or “It could be… it might be… it IS! A home run!”

In the evening, after supper, we turned off the kitchen radio and turned on the one in the living room, a big upright Philco. We laughed with Guildersleeve and his antics and each time Fibber McGee’s closet spilled out into the room. I grew up with “The Aldrich Family” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” But I especially loved the mystery/suspense shows. At least, the ones I was allowed to listen to like “The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.” I still think he could solve most of America’s cold cases today. My older brother was a great fan of “The Mysterious Stranger.” He said it was a little strange at times and I have heard it was a precursor to “The Twilight Zone” which, later, I was allowed to watch on television. I had to listen to “The Shadow” – ‘the Shadow knows’ - and “Inner Sanctom” with the volume turned way down low because Mama did not allow me to listen to these two programs. She said they would give me bad dreams. Even the theme music sounded scary! She did allow to tune in to “Mr. Keen” and it became my favorite.

Of course, we had our news broadcasters. I first listened to Gabriel Heater because he’d covered the war and was a favorite of my parents and my grandmother, “Mammy.” He always began his newscast with the words, “There’s GOOD news tonight!” How comforting his words were after the big war. Later on, when we were readying to go into Korea, we’d listen to Edward R. Murrow. He delivered the news in almost a monotone but he told us what was going on and nothing more. I later watched him on television, cigarette always in hand, and a steadying look of concentration on his face. Last, I must mention my hero of newscasters, Walter Cronkite. He simply delivered the news… no pregnant pauses… no exclamations… no veering to the “left” or to the “right.” He simply delivered the news. Straight forward and without comment. And he ended the broadcast with his famous words, “And that’s the way it is on this…..” How we miss you,Walter Cronkite!!

And how I miss my old radio programs. Like books, they allowed me to use my imagination in picturing the characters and their settings.

Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She responds to comments sent to [email protected]


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