Ralph Doty's Radio Memories: Early radio better than today’s TVOld-time radio programs are totally different from television shows in many ways — and in most cases they were better than today’s television.
By: Ralph Doty, Budgeteer News
Old-time radio programs are totally different from television shows in many ways — and in most cases they were better than today’s television.
For example, when watching many TV shows I am often embarrassed by the increasing use of gratuitous foul language and overt sexual behavior. But during the golden age of radio (1930-60), censors made certain that the format was kept family-oriented. Even the words “darn” and “heck” were not permitted in the 1930s and ’40s because they were often viewed as substitute words for “damn” and “hell.”
And sex? Only slight innuendos were permitted. Bawdy actress Mae West often had trouble getting her radio scripts cleared by censors. (I can’t understand why the FCC continues to allow those awful commercials for pills for erectile dysfunction these days….)
Speaking of commercials, have you counted the number of minutes devoted each hour to ads? On most TV programs, there is a minimum of 15 minutes each hour for ads — and during the past political season it was even more. Thank goodness for PBS, where “ads” at the beginning of most programs total two minutes.
During the days of old-time radio, the limit on commercial time was six minutes an hour, and sometimes less. Usually there was one ad at the show’s beginning, another in the middle and a final ad at the show’s end. It was simply wonderful!
Because radio is an audio medium, good radio actors were hired often to appear on many shows each week.
One of the most prolific was William Conrad, best known on radio as U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” Even while starring in that show, Conrad was often heard on the radio drama “Escape” (1947-54) and with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, stars of radio’s “Bold Venture” (1951-52).
Some weeks, Conrad was heard on six different radio shows. And sometimes he even portrayed two different characters on one program.
All this was possible because radio scripts were read, not memorized. Some radio actors were so good they performed in a live show after only one “read-through.”
And then there was comedian and band leader Phil Harris. Many folks could not understand why he appeared in the first 10 minutes of “The Jack Benny Program” and then wasn’t heard for the rest of the program during most weeks.
The reason: When Harris and wife Alice Faye — a good movie actress in her own right — got their own show, “The Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show” (1946-1953), it was aired at 6:30 p.m. on NBC, while Benny’s show was a half hour earlier at 6 p.m. on CBS.
When Benny moved from NBC to CBS in 1949, Harris would appear as the smart-aleck band leader on Benny’s show during the first 10 minutes and then would run to a waiting limousine to be whisked away to an NBC studio for his program.
Talk about doing things on the run!
I apologize for the lack of old-time radio columns in the Budge the past several weeks. I missed the first one because I was in my car on the way to a warmer climate for a while and was unable to finish this piece before the Wednesday deadline. And then when I arrived in Florida, I became ill, missing the second week.
I was pleased at the good response to my article four weeks ago. I promise to write about old-time radio shows you request, as three readers recently did.
Ralph Doty’s old-time radio appears every two weeks in the Duluth Budgeteer News. His “Radio Memories” program, aired on Twin Ports radio since 1985, is now heard every Friday at 8 p.m. on KUWS (90.3 FM).