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

http://www.radiospirits.info/page/6/

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

Introduction
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

Westerns

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

Suspense/Mystery

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

Comedy

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

References

Golden Age of American radio American Radio Industry

Golden Age of Radio

The History of Radio

A Short History of Radio

3 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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