Before television, during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s when radio was the dominant entertainment medium, families gathered to listen to the radio in the evening; that was the Golden Age of Radio.
It began when radio broadcasting started the early 1920s and lasted until the 1950s, when televisions slowly replaced the radio.
According to a 1947 survey, 82 out of 100 Americans listened to the radio: plays, mystery, adventure and detective serials, soap operas, quiz shows, variety hours, talent shows, situation comedies, children's shows, live musical concerts and play by play sports broadcasts. In addition, news: headlines, remote reporting, sidewalk interviews, panel discussions, weather reports, farm reports were also broadcast.
Several radio networks, which began declining in the 1960s, aired programs nationwide in the United States. The major networks were:
National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
Red Network a development by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA)
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)
Mutual Broadcasting System, developed from four different stations. Unlike the other networks, it did not own stations.
American Broadcasting Company (ABC), developed from an anti-monopoly sell-off of the NBC Blue Network division in 1945
Mutual and NBC both closed down their radio operations in the 1980s, while ABC lasted until 2007 and CBS still operates its network as of 2016.
The earliest radio programs of the 1920s usually didn't have sponsors because radio stations were a service designed to sell radio receivers. By the late 1920s, radio had saturated the market, necessitating a change and the sponsorship of programs was born.
Classical music programs included The Voice of Firestone, New York Philharmonic, the Bell Telephone Hour, the Metropolitan Opera and the celebrated Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which had been created especially for him.
Country music also enjoyed popularity and programs such as the National Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry (originally called the WSM Barn Dance), the Red Foley Show and the Ozark Jubilee were prominent.
Radio attracted top comedy acts: Abbott and Costello, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Bob Burns, Judy Canova, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Phil Harris, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Jean Shepherd, Red Skelton and Ed Wynn.
Situational comedies also gained popularity, such as Amos 'n' Andy, Burns and Allen, Easy Aces, Ethel and Albert, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Goldbergs, The Great Gildersleeve, The Halls of Ivy, Meet Corliss Archer, Meet Millie, Our Miss Brooks, Lum and Abner, Herb Shriner and Minnie Pearl.
Other shows were adapted from comic strips: Blondie, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Li'l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye the Sailor, Red Ryder, Reg'lar Fellers, Terry and the Pirates and Tillie the Toiler.
The first soap opera, Clara, Lu, and Em was introduced in 1930 on Chicago's WGN.
When daytime serials began in the early 1930s, they became known as soap operas because many were sponsored by soap products and detergents.
Late afternoon adventure serials included: Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders, The Cisco Kid, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Captain Midnight, and The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Badges, rings, decoding devices and other radio premiums offered on these adventure shows were often allied with a sponsor's product, requiring the young listeners to mail in a box top from a breakfast cereal or other proof of purchase.
In the beginning programs were almost exclusively broadcast live, as the national networks prohibited the airing of recorded programs until the late 1940s because of the inferior sound quality of phonograph discs, the only practical recording medium. As a result, prime-time shows would be performed twice, once for each coast. However, "reference recordings" were made of many programs as they were being broadcast, for review by the sponsor and for the network's own archival purposes. With the development of high-fidelity magnetic wire and tape recording in the years following World War II, the networks became more open to airing recorded programs and the prerecording of shows became more common.
The OTR.Network Library has hundreds of old radio programs you can listen to HERE. You will need to have the free RealPlayer software installed which you can download HERE. One word of caution...the programs asks if you want to install Google Chrome as your default browser, so make sure you uncheck the box!!