When we were kids, back in the 1940s, we spent inclement Sunday afternoons lying on the living room floor–coloring books and crayons at the ready for “something to do while listening to the radio.” Then we would listen to a variety of shows which were aimed at no particular listening audience. Cowboys, Cops, and Crooks of all kinds were the favorites that filled the airways.
TENNESSEE JED– A rifle shot followed by the sound of the ricochet as the bullet hit a rock…and a voice that called out “git ‘im, Tennessee!” Then Jed, the hero, would go about on various adventures making the Tennessee woods safe from bad guys.
THE LONE RANGER– A horse would whinney, and hooves would clatter, and the sound of an orchestra playing The William Tell Overture would fill the room. “HI HO, SILVER!” and “What’s up Kimosabe?” introduced the episode’s plot. The Lone Ranger and his pal, Tonto, their respective horses–Silver, and um…Scout?… then proceeded to fight bad guys and hostile Injuns. At the end of each show a mysterious voice would ask plaintively… “WHO was that masked man?”
THE FBI IN PEACE AND WAR– I don’t recall the main characters, but the rousing orchestral music began Bum…bum..bum…bum…BUM de-Bum announcing the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) was on the guard against spies and other enemies of the nation. This was reassuring to us kids, who were indoctrinated to the ways of evil in our very tender years.
Then there was CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT!– The Captain was a caped crusader, very brave and mysterious. I remember him being shiny dark in the comic books by the same name. He stood for all that was good.
THE SHADOW always was familiar with the “Evil that lurks in the hearts of men!” Who knew? The SHADOW KNOWS! I believe the hero’s name was Lamontt Cranston…
DICK TRACY– always on guard against Badness. A police detective who was well-known to Crooks and to the good people of the city, who recognized Dick Tracy as a savior and hero. He had the “classic detective demeanor” recognizable by his chiseled-facial-features (sharp nose and angular chin…and trench-coat and fedora.)
THE SQUEAKING DOOR– was a hair-raising mystery show, which began with (what else–a squeaking door) and featured all manner of villains and victims, and tales of horror and hints of the supernatural. Personally I did not listen to the Squeaking Door because I was such a little wimp.
THE INNER SANCTUM– was another of my mother’s favorites. She would listen to these shows late at night, waiting for my Dad to get home from work around midnight. She would get so absorbed in listening to these horror shows that she would jump at the slightest unexpected sound. Mom used to crochet fancy edges onto handkerchiefs, which we would give as teachers’ gifts—which has nothing to do with anything, except that she would be listening intently to the scary stuff on the radio and concentrating on her needlework. Listening to radio presentations required great involvement of human imagination.
One time my husband and I were driving in a hilly area of Germany, and the radio station we were listening to (probably AFN, Armed Forces Network) broadcast The War of the Worlds, the original version narrated by actor Orson Welles, which actually scared the heck out of much of the listening audience in the U.S. Remembering that broadcast even now gives me chills…the mastery of Orson Welles’ narration of the fictitious (but who knew?) but intensely realistic and convincing “breaking news report” of the Martian invasion of New Jersey. Every time I see those huge power line towers constructed like huge erector-set metal monsters…I am reminded of that radio broadcast. I have seen Jules Verne’s War of the Worlds numerous times on television or movies….but it is never as effective as when technical effects and details are supplied by my own mind. The power of imagination!