Wednesday, October 03, 2012

1078 The Golden Age of Radio?

1078 The Golden Age of Radio?

A recent post on the New York Radio History Board marks what the author calls the end of the "golden age" of radio.  He was right that it was an important date in the history of the medium, but really, there was no golden age... or there were several, if not many.

There may have been a “golden age” of radio drama and that may have ended September 30, 1962 when some of the last remaining broadcasts stopped.  But radio keeps having golden ages.

In the really early days of commercial broadcasting, say 1920 to 1930 or so, radio was the new kid on the block.  A novelty.  Programming was experimental.  The competition was live theater, live vaudeville and the primitive phonograph recordings of the day.  The record player challenged much of the home made music of the era.  Radio challenged the record player (to a draw.)  And  by the end of World War II, television challenged radio forcing it to change.

Who is to say that the live band shows and then the disc jockeys didn’t constitute a golden age of their own.  Or that the advent of rock and then top 40 in the late 50s to the early 70s weren’t another “golden age?”

Who is to say when FM came into its own, that wasn’t a golden age?

When you listen to the old time dramas through 21st century ears, you’re apt to say “what gold?”  Many of the soap operas and the westerns and the comedy programs and the mysteries now sound stilted and distant.  Do we want to observe a “golden age of stiff and pompous?”  Sure, why not.  But it’s only one among the many.

Radio’s obituary has been written since the late 1940s.  And while it’s on life support now, it’s not dead yet.  As a young and a middle aged medium, radio was an uneasy polygamous marriage among large corporations, small entrepreneurs, and an often overzealous Federal Communications Commission.

Now it’s a more traditional marriage of large corporations and independents, largely fleas on the hide of the not terribly healthy elephant.  And the FCC might as well be dead for all the enforcing it does of its dumbed down diluted regulations.

New competition from low rent television channels and the internet are again raising radio’s obituary.  Traditional competitors are equally weakened:  newspapers and traditional TV.  Think about this: 50 years from now, we may be thinking of “Morning Express with Robin Meade,” “Sins & Secrets,” Nancy Grace and “Operation Repo” as the golden age of television.

Stabs at foolish technology helped hobble radio:  all that money sunk into bad ideas like AM stereo, FM quadraphonic, and now HD.  Syndicators have taken over the programming role of networks.  AM has been conquered by the right wing talkers and FM has been taken over by the somnambulating “public” stations and the monotonous noise, whining, squealing, hip hopping and twanging that now passes for music.

The New York message poster is said to be a man of good will and intelligence and probably is.  But “Our Gal Sunday,” “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” “The Shadow,” and “Amos ‘n’ Andy” haven’t stood the test of time.

This may be the Golden Age of radio’s Golden years.  Or maybe it was fools’ gold all along.

--Even if you didn’t know his name, you knew radio-tv-film-broadway actor Mason Adams’ work as Lou Grant’s TV boss and from the Smucker’s jams and preserves commercials.  When he died in 2005 at the age of 86, Smucker’s lost its voice but now has found someone who shares some of Adams’ distinctive delivery for their spots.  So, is that a tribute, or an insult?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

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