Mine was the first generation to be raised on television. In many ways, this new invention signaled the end of imagination. We didn’t have to use our minds to picture what was happening as the story unfolded. We merely had to stare ahead at the picture in front of us.
One day dad came home with a present for the family. One of his friends who was a big radio buff had taped a large collection of old-time radio shows on his reel to reel recorder. He had made copies of many of these and dad came home with a shopping bag full of these tapes. He wanted me to experience the joy he and his family had when they had originally listened to them.
I don’t remember all of them but there were episodes of “Burns and Allen,” “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Jimmy Durante,” “The Green Hornet,” “Dragnet,” “Jack Benny,” to name just a few.
That night after dinner dad pulled out our tape recorder, turned off the lights and lit a candle in order to re-create the atmosphere he knew when he first heard the shows and his family sat around their radio. We began listening to the invisible voices of comedy and drama.
The quality of the recordings was poor. We had to pay close attention to hear the voices that came to us from the ether of a past day. As we heard these entertainers on a now-obsolete technology, we had the opportunity to apply our imaginations to the lines the actors spoke.
I’m sure that each of us had a different image of the way that Fibber McGee and Molly’s house was arranged. Or what the city where the Green Hornet did his good works looked like. We were free to imagine as we would.
It was a wonderful experience and began a tradition. Once a week we would regularly spend a few hours together and continue to play through all the tapes dad’s friend had recorded. These were magical moments – an experience of art and family.
Today the golden days of radio have passed.
We sit in a movie and are disappointed if there isn’t enough action, car chases, buildings being blown to smithereens and a sufficient number of killings. We don’t have to imagine anything as our senses are overloaded with visual images and an appropriate amount of offensive language all conveyed to us at a far higher level of volume than is necessary other than for those of us with hearing problems.
Well, that’s probably what today’s public craves – and Hollywood doesn’t disappoint it’s audience. “Give the people what they want” is their mantra.
I found an excellent source for old-time radio shows and ordered ten of them. They arrived yesterday. Tonight I’m going to snuggle up with Gracie and begin listening to them. Rather than curse the drivel that is on television or the big screen I’m going to light a candle and start enjoying them.