For everybody "raised on radio"—and that's everybody brought up in the thirties, forties, and early fifties—this is the ultimate book, combining nostalgia, history, judgment, and fun, as it reminds us of just how wonderful (and sometimes just how silly) this vanished medium was. Of course, radio still exists—but not the radio of The Lone Ranger and One Man's Family, of Our Gal Sunday and Life Can Be Beautiful, of The Goldbergs and Amos 'n' Andy, of Easy Aces, Vic and Sade, and Bob and Ray, of The Shadow and The Green Hornet, of Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Baby Snooks, of the great comics, announcers, sound-effects men, sponsors, and tycoons.
In the late 1920s radio exploded almost overnight into being America's dominant entertainment, just as television would do twenty-five years later. Gerald Nachman, himself a product of the radio years—as a boy he did his homework to the sound of Jack Benny and Our Miss Brooks—takes us back to the heyday of radio, bringing to life the great performers and shows, as well as the not-so-great and not-great-at-all. Nachman analyzes the many genres that radio deployed or invented, from the soap opera to the sitcom to the quiz show, zooming in to study closely key performers like Benny, Bob Hope, and Fred Allen, while pulling back to an overview that manages to be both comprehensive and seductively specific.
Here is a book that is generous, instructive, and sinfully readable—and that brings an era alive as it salutes an extraordinary American phenomenon.
Before it fell victim to the voracious adolescence of television in the late 1950s and early 1960s, American radio was the country's dominant cultural force. It served as a testing ground for new advertising and marketing models, created huge celebrities--Jack Benny and Fred Allen, for example--and installed programs such as Amos 'n' Andy and You Bet Your Life in America's cultural pantheon. There have been several attempts to create a popular history of the medium's Golden Age but none quite as successful as Nachman's book. Organized thematically rather than chronologically, the 24 chapters cover everything from radio's domestic comedies ("Nesting Instincts") and the quiz-show phenomenon ("Minds Over Matter") to the medium's dependence on ethnic types ("No WASPS Need Apply"). A syndicated humor columnist and reporter on the arts, Nachman also presents vivid portraits of radio's major figures and a few of its fascinating minor ones, including maverick comic Henry Morgan and horror maven Arch Obler, the Rod Serling of his day. Nachman doesn't shy away from such issues as racism and sexism; throughout he stresses the overarching theme that radio has served as a national conscience and a socioeconomic mirror. He takes such delight in chronicling the medium's rise and fall that even readers raised away from radio will understand why a whole generation projected their imaginations onto this vast sonic canvas. Photos.