Don’t Touch That Dial!


The radio was beloved by our Grandparents, as well the younger generation.

Boxtops and radios went hand-in-hand. If you were a kid in the 1940s and 50s, you probably mailed in your share of boxtops to that well-remembered address in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Little Orphan Annie, and Captain Midnight’s decoder rings among the coveted premiums.

Radio once inspired our imaginations in a way few things have since.

In the 1940’s, radio was all my family needed for an exciting evening’s entertainment at home. Next to the music of the big band era, radio programming, in the days of pre-television, rekindles nostalgic memories for a postwar generation.

During the 1930s, 40s and 50s, children’s serials filled the radio airways. I can’t recall all of them now, but with a little encouragement, I can recite the preamble to my favorite show, “The Adventures of Superman” which went something like this: “Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with abilities far beyond those of mortal men / Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands…etc etc “

When commercial radio stations began regular broadcasting in the early 1920s, radio was still a luxury to be enjoyed only by the affluent. Within a few years, however, radio sets became cheaper. Before long Radio stations began to spring up across the country and the average middle class home was tuning in to hear their favorite radio programs.

In the 1930s and ’40s, radio’s golden era, shows achieved nationwide popularity among housewives who tuned in to their daily half- hour soap operas (named for their sponsors who were usually soap manufactures).

vincenzo radio
vincenzo radio

Blondie (1939-1950) was my household’s most loved situation comedy. Sponsored by Camel cigarettes and Super Suds, this hilarious comedy, based on Chic Young’s comic strip character, featured the irrepressible, Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton, who also starred in the Blondie film series. Blondie was a Monday night ritual in our home. Her funny antics, along with hubby Dagwood Bumstead, kept us in stitches.

Huddled around our tall, wood-framed Philco radio, family members settled into a comfortable listening spot. Dad, reclining in his easy chair, resting his stocking feet on the soft cushioned ottoman. Mom, taking her place on the sofa, near the small table lamp, so she could finish her mending. My brother and I, to be sure we wouldn’t miss a word of the show’s dialog, crowded up to the radio speakers. At the beginning of every Blondie episode the announcer would say- “AH, AH, AH, don’t touch that dial – It’s time to listen to …” just then Dagwood would yell out,“BLONNNN-DEEEEE.”

I’d sit there, wide-eyed, and wondering if somehow that voice inside the radio could actually see if I touched that dial or not.

Radio gave its listening audience the opportunity to conjure up their own personalized images: Buck Rogers in the 25th century 1931-1945 (CBS) and Captain Midnight 1940-49 (NBC) had us visualizing space ships and celestial worlds. Little Orphan Annie 1931-43 (NBC) sponsored by Ovaltine, had us sending in for decoder rings and following the little moppet on high adventure each week. Quaker Oats brought us the excitement of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon 1947-50 (CBS) In our minds eye we could see the spectacle and wonder of the snow covered Yukon as we joined the Sergeant on each new adventure.

The dulcet tones of radio broadcaster, Arthur Godfrey could be heard on two popular CBS shows: Arthur Godfrey time 1945-72 sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes and at least another 60 other sponsors across the country. The show included regulars Julius LaRosa, Tony Marvin and LuAnn Simms. Godfrey also hosted the Arthur Godfrey’ Talent Scouts.

The show, sponsored by Lipton Tea featured a weekly lineup of undiscovered talent. Like its predecessor, Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour-1943, the popular show discovered many new stars such as Julius LaRosa, Rose Marie and Carmel Quinn.

For the mystery lover, radio gave us, The Witches Tale 1931, The Whistler 1942-55 (CBS) and The Shadow, 1930-32 (CBS) and the ever scary, Lights Out-1934. (NBC) For the sports enthusiast announcers, Bill Corum and Don Dunphy’s brought us Gillette’s Friday night fights, their colorful ringside description had us feeling every punch. Ethnic comedy was popular back then and it was well-represented in shows like, Amos Andy 1929-48 (NBC), The Goldbergs 1929-34 (NBC) 1937-45 and Life with Luigi 1948- 53. (CBS)

The sound of Clayton Moore’s resonate voice as the Lone Ranger and his weekly refrain, “Hi-Yo Silver – away” thrilled our household every Friday night at 7:30 PM.

That mighty call set our hearts thumping with excitement as the masked man and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto (Jay Silverheels) rode across the airwaves. “With the speed of light and a cloud of dust the Lone Ranger rides again.” Our eyes transfixed on the radio dial we could see with our imagination the vivid Wild West in all its dusty, arid, glory.

Radio soap operas were as popular then as today’s cable dramas. We tuned in faithfully to these daily sagas. Even during school days, I’d come home for lunch to savor a bowl of Mom’s homemade soup and catch the latest installment of Ma Perkins 1933-66 (CBS). While Mom’s hearty soup satisfied my hunger for food, Ma Perkins and the Baxter’s fed my appetite for drama. Actress Virginia Payne played the incomparable Ma Perkins for the shows 27 year run.

As I get older, I find it’s getting more difficult to explain to the younger generation just what was so great about those golden years of radio – especially to the kids who grew up in a TV/computerized age.

When our beloved radio went dead, we didn’t throw it away and buy a new one. We simply pulled out the offending tube – drove down to the 5&10 store’s tube tester and for some small change we got ourselves a replacement. Radio gave all ages who listened the chance to use their imaginations in a way nothing has since. We created the scenes we heard in our minds eye and everyone saw a different picture.

Sometimes, progress is just trying to make things as good as they use to be.

Cookie Curci
Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a "Remember When" column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of "Mother's Miracle" books ( Morrow books).She has a short story in the new book "ELVIS", Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman's World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L'italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.