The Golden Age of Radio: Learning American History through Classic Radio Broadcasts

By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

In our present day there is a wide variety of entertainment sources available. From television to feature length films twenty-first American citizens have come to greatly rely on using media for entertainment.  Out of all of the choices for electronic media today the radio has been a consistent source of news, information and entertainment since its inception. Before television and movies became popular the radio was the primary source of electronic entertainment for many families in the US.

The Golden Age of Radio
A time in history when the radio was very popular was entitled the Golden Age of radio. The Golden Age of Radio was as an old-time radio era when radio programming in the United States was the primary electronic entertainment medium in nearly every home. The Golden Age began in the 1920’s and lasted through the 1940’s, when the appeal of television –offering both sound and imagery– began to become more affordable and took the place of radio.

Using Online Resources to Teach Effectively
People who experienced radio in the early to mid-twentieth century did not have easy access to archives of their favorite shows from childhood or young adulthood. But modern technology through the Internet, computers and online resources such as Youtube allow us to have access to countless media, in such a way that was not at all possible in the past. We now have access to thousands of classic radio broadcasts that offers an invaluable resource for middle school and high school teachers. Educators can use radio broadcasts to teach about certain time periods and ways of life during the early to mid-twentieth century. Teachers can help students have a more rich understanding of American history, civics and democracy via old radio archives.

Examples of Lessons and Units Using Classic Radio Broadcasts

  • Using historical speeches to teach American history and historic political ideas.A big part of good social studies teaching is the use of effective and meaningful primary sources. Primary sources do not only consist of print resources. In fact, nearly all radio archives can be considered primary sources. Teachers can use speeches to understand certain historical events or key figures in history. For example, students can listen to audio of US presidents from the past such as Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Harry Truman to help students understand the political climate of certain years or decades. The Internet offers many of the transcripts of these speeches that can allow students to do a text analysis of them for a closer read and understanding of the concepts.    
  • Using radio programs to teach students how people lived in certain time periods. Students can listen to radio shows of various genre’s such as westerns, mystery, suspense, thrillers, science fiction or comedy to create projects that give students a glimpse of what life was like in the early 1900’s. For example, students can listen to episodes of the western entitled Gunsmoke to supplement a unit on the American West and Native American culture. They can explore American perceptions of the west and how Native American’s were portrayed and how stereotypes persisted.
  • Using radio programs to teach students how people viewed life in certain time periods. The 1950’s was often idealized and projected an American utopia and innocent way of life through radio and television. Wonderful discussions and lessons can be built from these radio sources. For example, teachers can use sitcom radio programs such as I Love Lucy, The Aldrich Family or The Ozzy and Harriet Show to supplement a unit about what everyday life might have been like during the 1940’s and 50’s, verses how it was portrayed on the radio. In this same way, science fiction radio programs such as Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds can be used to explore American perceptions of science and outer space during the 1940’s.
  • Using historic radio news programs as primary sources to teach American history. Radio news archives can offer a treasure trove to students studying the early to mid-twentieth century America. For example, when teaching a unit of World War II teachers can integrate the audio archives of the news report of the attack on Pearl Harbor to get a sense of how the attack affected the American public.

Below I have offered a number of links to various radio broadcasts that can be used in the classroom. I have also provided sites that offer lessons on incorporating some aspect of radio in one’s teaching.

Lesson Plans and Classic Radio Program Archives

Science Fiction/Horror/Thriller

Golden Age of Radio: Program #51 (Oct 1, 2017)

Old Time Radio Drama Playlist

Orson Welles – War Of The Worlds – Radio Broadcast 1938

CBS Radio Mystery Theater, 487, Ghost Town

Escape “Man from Tomorrow” – Old Time Radio Science Fiction!

Hall Of Fantasy AUTOMATON – Old Time Radio Science Fiction Horror!

Dimension X “Almost Human” – Old Time Radio Science Fiction!

“The Lodger” 1946 CBS Radio – Vincent Price

Dracula Starring Orson Welles- Mercury Theater


Gunsmoke, Robin Hood

The Lone Ranger, Old Time Radio, 560509 In the Name of Justice

The Roy Rogers Show, Old Time Radio, OTR, 521023 Wrong Cowboy


Perry Mason: Case of the Deadly Double

Suspense: The Shelter – Classic Old Time Radio Horror Drama

Sherlock Holmes – The Camberwell Poisoning Case 1943 – Old Time Radio

Suspicion Alfred Hitchcock: One Hour Audio Drama / Classic Radio Theatre


The Aldrich Family – “Moving Day” 10/14/43 (HQ) Old Time Radio Comedy

The Ozzie and Harriet Radio Show December 26 1948 HD

I Love Lucy (pilot for proposed radio series)

Amos ‘n’ Andy Show – Missing Persons Bureau (February 4, 1944)

Abbott & Costello, Old Time Radio 400320 Lion Hunting

News, Speeches, Sports.

Compilation of World War II Radio Broadcasts: Part 1

Joe Louis vs. Jack Sharkey over KHJ Radio, August 18, 1936
1949 World Series Game 1 Dodgers at Yankees Classic Radio Broadcast

Franklin Roosevelt – Fireside Chat #1, On the Banking Crisis (1933)

Franklin D Roosevelt – Four Freedoms Speech – January 6, 1941

1949 Inauguration Speech of Harry Truman (Full)

A Conversation with Herbert Hoover

JFK Secret Societies Speech (full version)

Pearl Harbor Attack Emergency Radio Broadcast

The Only Live News Report from the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Documentaries on History of Radio

Oldtime Radio Documentary “The First 50 Years” The History of Radio Part One

Amazing Short Film on Old Time Radio Sound Effects: “Back of the Mike” (1938)

Teaching Resources/Lesson Plans

Radio Curriculum

Radios in the Classroom: Curriculum Integration and Communication Skills

A Lesson Plan and Project on the Invention of the Radio


Golden Age of American radio American Radio Industry

Golden Age of Radio

The History of Radio

A Short History of Radio


  1. I believe it is very important to make a student’s learning well rounded. This includes teaching them about things that are becoming obsolete in our society today. Everyone is using spotify and apple music instead of listening to the radio, at least our generation is. We cannot stand commercials. Keeping alive the classic radio broadcasts is a hard thing to do, especially to children who may have never listened to a radio or even knew that radios were all people had before televisions. I think that it would be a very cool learning experience for students to listen to radio broadcasts for a lesson. This is also a great way to reach auditory learners. I love the idea of using radio programs to teach students how people lived in certain time periods. We listened to a murder mystery podcast in one of my english classes in high school which was the closest to a radio program as I got. But, I do vividly remember this experience and being excited to listen each class we had. I would love to introduce my class to radio shows or even have them create their own one day. 

  2. The article that I chose to review was, “The Golden Age of Radio: Learning American History through Classic Radio Broadcasts.” This article made some very interesting and intriguing points about the importance of incorporating the use of radio in social studies lessons. By using radio, students get to see and understand that in the past, technology did not exist in as many forms as it does now. If people wanted information, they could not just do a quick internet search. However, the radio in the 1920s revolutionized how people got information; they could hear from their leaders such as FDR by simply switching on the radio. This allows for students to better understand how people in the past operated and what factors influenced their daily lives. Ways that the radio can be used in the classroom include the following:
    Using the radio to teach historical content (FDR, Truman addresses)
    Using the radio to teach about the pop culture of the time (Radio news broadcasts, radio thrillers, comedy shows).
    Using the radio to understand how people viewed life and culture of the time (women’s roles and minority roles in shows, or lack thereof).

  3. I don’t think that the radio is as popular as it used to be back in the day. We now have a lot more resources for music and entertainment. That being said, I still enjoy listening to the radio and think that it can be a great way to also be educated on certain matters.

  4. Radio broadcasts have recently been compared with podcasts which I find similar and very interesting. I loved the examples of lessons using radio broadcasts put in the article and shows a new, fun way of teaching children.

  5. This article brought a different perspective for me. I have always wondered what it has been like for children the last 2 years to learn virtually. However, this article provided a different insight on how children learned about American history on radio broadcasts before virtual learning was a thing. 

  6. Being able to a direct comparison for the use of radios from the past to the present to see the change of entertainment would be a great idea. I also think activities surrounding the Golden Age of radio would bring a cohesive perspective that allows students to better understand the time period.

  7. The golden age of radio! It sounds like such a simpler time when families when gather around a radio and listen to news and different stories. I guess it’s not so much different then today with T.V. when you see families in adds all huddled up watching a movie together. As teachers I feel like we usually try to find resources in books, internet, print, videos, even songs. Most of the time we don’t even consider radio to be a resource to help teach lessons in our classrooms. Though I feel like some stories and news were probably not as elementary level friendly, it’s definitely a resource to look into when coming up on a new history subject in class. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able t use this at an elementary level, but I first thought of finding radio broadcast from D-Day to see how America was effected and what the news was saying when such a travesty happened to the USA in history. When talking about Native Americans though I think it would be interesting to have an appropriate broadcast play that shows the common stereotypes of Native American’s and have the students compare it to what they have studies previously about them and their culture to see what is true and what is not.

  8. Radio has changed immensely over time. Having the option to use older radio broadcasts and use them to aid lessons is extremely beneficial. I know I personally would have enjoyed a lesson with historic broadcast being a focus when I was a student. I think having access to these will help to bring history to life for students who just can’t imagine a time without today’s technology.

  9. I found this article very interesting in the perspective of using old radio shows and broadcasts to teach. I think it would be a great idea especially when teaching about certain time periods. it would be interesting to have students listen to broadcasts, especially from World War 2 or other wars, and hear what they were like. I think that students could get a lot out of how the radio was used at different moments in history. Many textbooks offer images of a time period but having a radio broadcast that goes along with it could expand a students understanding. A great lesson I think would be to have students could create their own radio show and pretend that they are from a time period that they have researched and have to create a broadcast from that time.

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