Vintage Radio Became Collectable with Advent of Reel-to Reel Tape Recorders
I make no secret of my love of vintage radio shows, especially those in the 1940s and 1950s. I grew up in the late 1940s listening to them until 9:00 p.m. each night when I had to be in bed with the lights out and radio off.
About 1969, shortly after I started work at Tennessee Eastman Co., I became aware that a Bristol radio station, WKYE, which went on the air in 1962, was playing classic radio shows every hour on the hour, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and running until 11:00 p.m. Most were 30 minutes in length; a few were 15 minutes.
Lum and Abner in their characterist poise. Selection of Atwater Kent Radios.
Hopalong Cassidy performing over the Voice of America.
My favorite series was the 5:00 p.m. one, "Lum and Abner," consisting of 15-minute episodes. I had not heard the program since the early 1950s and was excited about listening to my favorite “old codgers” again. I set a timer on my reel-to-reel tape recorder each day and recorded the shows.
Over time, I filled 84 reels totaling more than 500 hours and simultaneously began trading radio shows with other collectors. Today, the programs are available at low cost on CD using mp3 format.
My first recorded story line dealt with a man who placed a mysterious object in a safety deposit box at Lum and Abner's newly-opened bank in their Jot-Em-Down Store. The plot did not really didn't matter because the funnymen's humor lie in their homespun dialog.
Although I was familiar with most of the radio shows I recorded, a few were unfamiliar to me, such as "Candy Matson, a female private investigator who possessed a wry sense of humor and a strong character.
I immediately became a huge fan of "Fibber McGee and Molly," even thought I did not listen to them in my youth because they came on every Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. while I was asleep. Other shows were "The Green Hornet," "The Mysterious Traveler," "The Jack Benny Lucky Strike Program," "The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show" and "The Shadow" ("Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Shadow Knows." Afterward came a sinister laugh).
I particularly enjoyed radio favorites with a western theme: "The Lone Ranger," (Brace Beemer in the lead role instead of Clayton Moore from the TV version), "The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters on the Air" (1933-50 with Artells Dickson as Mix and Percy Hemus was "The Old Wrangler"), "Straight Arrow" (1948-51, Howard Culver as Steve Adams, a Comanche Indian along with his horse, Fury), "The Roy Rogers ("King of the Cowboys") Show," "Gene Autry's Melody Ranch,” "Bobby Benson's B-Bar-B Riders" and "Six Shooter" (Jimmy Stewart).
The "Gunsmoke" radio adaptation (1952-61) starring William Conrad (later television's “Canon” and "Jake and the Fat Man") portraying Matt Dillon, Parley Baer (second mayor of “The Andy Griffith Show”) as Chester Proudfoot, Georgia Ellis as Kitty and Howard McNear (Floyd the Barber on TV's "The Andy Griffith Show”) as Doc Adams.
Most people readily recall the television actors: (James Arness (Matt), Dennis Weaver (Chester), Amanda Blake (Kitty) and Milburn Stone (Doc).
Other favorites from the West included "Hopalong Cassidy" (William Boyd as Hoppy), "Have Gun Will Travel" (John Dahner as Paladin) "Frontier Gentlemen," (John Dehner in the role of "an Englishman's account of life and death in the West serving as a reporter for the London Times.").
Who can remember the opening line from this classic radio western? "As the early-morning bugle-call of covered wagon trains fades away among the echoes, another true Death Valley days story is presented for your entertainment by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, producers of that famous family of products – 20 Mule Team Borax, 20 Mule Team Borax Soap Chips and Boraxo.”
I hope you enjoyed my little nostalgic excursion down vintage radio's memory lane.