Before the widespread adoption of television, radio was the most popular home entertainment system across the United States. Initially, radio was regarded as a "low" medium and not well respected by American media corporations. With the rise of the movie industry, America's appetite for mass entertainment grew, and soon the breeding ground of Vaudeville was serving radio as well as movies.
Early radio shows reflected Vaudeville origins and usually featured variety shows with music, slapstick or ethnic humor, and often suggestive situations. As the medium matured, sophistication increased. By the mid-1930s radio featured all the genres popular in other forms of American entertainment: comedy, drama, horror, mystery, romance, music, and so on.
Among the best-known of the early radio performers were comedians: Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Amos and Andy, Abbott and Costello, and Fibber McGee and Molly. The Lux Radio Theater included adaptations of Hollywood movies, performed before a live audience, often with the same stars that appeared in the original movies. Later shows included highly succcessful suspense series such as the aptly-named Suspense, Escape, The Mysterious Traveler, Inner Sanctum and many others.
The best known writers and directors during the Golden Age of Radio included Norman Corwin and Orson Welles.
Old-time radio survives largely because the Armed Forces Radio Service often requested disk transcriptions to be sent to "our forces overseas," and transcription disks were also distributed to many stations that broadcast in different time zones. Many of these disks ultimately ended up in the hands of collectors who preserved them with great care. Today, these recordings are collected on tape and via MP3 files on computers.
Old-time radio is fondly remembered by most Americans of the right age for at least a few trademark sounds, phrases and events: the famous broadcast of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles' Mercury Theater on the Air, which caused a panic in New York City; the "creaking door" which opened each episode of Inner Sanctum; Jack Benny's famous call for "Rochester" (and the famous answers of Eddie Anderson, as much a star of the program as Benny himself); the clipped speech of Jack Webb on Dragnet; the call of the Lone Ranger: "Hi-Yo, Silver!"; the cackle of The Shadow: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows..."
An especially useful external link for finding more resources relating to old-time radio is http://www.old-time.com.
Selected OTR programs by genre:
(Add new shows alphabetically by title)
See also: Radio programming, Radio