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. It is hard for me and I think for others that are my age to even think of a world with no use of electronics. Since I was young, I can remember there being a television in a couple rooms of my house, and having my own Barbie radio in my room. It is amazing to see and think about how far technology really has came. It truly amazes me to think at one time, families would all sit around a radio to receive their news and entertainment for the day. Today it seems as if electronics are given to kids at younger and younger ages each year. Which in the end can be a good thing and a very bad thing. Having kids being tech savvy is a plus, yet can hurt their learning, communication skills, and etc. Although, I think using technology in class:podcasts, radio shows, documentaries, and or YouTube clips are always a plus when trying to grab your student’s attention and further their learning.

  2. I grew up in the 90s. I have always remembered having a tv. I was not brought up listening to the radio and broadcasts. However when I was in high school. I do remember listening to the speeches during history class. With the way that technology is now days, everything is available to us at our fingertips. Its so easy to ask google. I feel like back during the radio shows, family sat down and had quality time together. They were able to enjoy the broadcast vs. just using a tv as background noise while the family plays on their phones.

  3. I can remember as a child, listening to the nightly news with my Grandpa. We would sit quietly in the living room all gathered around the radio, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what I was waiting to hear. I know after listening, my grandparents and parents would discuss and sometimes debate, but I was really waiting to hear the “show” after the news. I can remember, even from 25+ years ago, waiting to hear what was going to happen next in the mystery story! When it comes to using radio in the classroom today, I think it is a fantastic idea. Nowadays, students can access anything online within seconds, they just ask Siri or Alex, get their answer and move on. But what about students having to wait and listen to find out what is going to happen next? The ideas listed for lessons are great, I feel that I could take it even a bit further, maybe set the room up like early 1950’s, have students listen, discuss, and create based on what we are listening too. Another great idea is for students to create their own radio show based during a certain time period, be a character from that time and tell us what is happening!

  4. As a future educator, I believe that by using old broadcasts, especially in social studies, to help supplement content material is a great way to put the students into the mindset of living in the time that the broadcast was aired. It’s a great way to engage the students and show them that not everyone has grown up with cell phones; it really puts their lives into perspective and helps them imagine a life without the technology they have! With our current technological advancements, it becomes easy to forget that we do not need to be consumed in it 24/7 and this way, we can remind our students of that same philosophy. I really liked how this article included the possibilities of using the golden age of connecting a time period that seemed so long ago to our present day situation and by doing this, it creates a bridge for the students between where we used to be and where we are now. I also appreciate how you added in lesson plan and radio program archives to future educators to one day utilize!

  5. I love the idea of using radio clips to teach social studies! It is so important for students to experience what the people of the time would have experienced as much as possible! I think that students would be more engaged in listening to a segment of a speech or radio broadcast rather than reading a transcript of the speech. Further, it would be interesting for students to think about the difference between the different mediums of communication. Interesting and important discussions could occur when you talk about the other underlying factors of giving a speech vs. writing an open memo vs. a television broadcast vs. an interview.

  6. As a millennial in today’s society, I do appreciate the fact that we have the ability to access millions of information at our fingertips. However, I feel that today’s society has grown too rely too much upon this and we are regressing as individuals. For example, many of us have communication issues and it enables us to put our thoughts into words and sentences when face to face with one another.

    During the “Golden Age,” I feel that they were a growing community of individuals excited for a new era. They did not take advantage of their surroundings and they celebrated one another’s successes more efficiently. The form of radios and broadcasts were there go-to means of means of news information. This helped one another become aware of weather, crimes that were taking place, and all other information that may have needed to be broadcasted. As teachers it is our duty to inform students on how life was before to either remind them of what the mistakes we made or two remember something significant. As a English Secondary Education major, I would to incorporate some of your ideas for lesson plans into my own. Like when discussing a certain author, I might retrieve a broadcast from that era that gives them a specific idea on how society was then and what they endured (reasons the author wrote the story).

    In addition to this, I would like to add that many individuals had seen the Television and noted that they did not think they T.V. would go very far. They had initially thought that the radio would be there only means of programming.

  7. We are very lucky to have access to archives of radio broadcasts! With the help of online resources, we are able to step back into time and better understand what was happening during almost any time we wish. It is also very much a great tool for teachers to use to help educate students during an important time of history. Being able to hear live and now see live feed of what was happening during a certain event can help people understand the significance of why something is so important.

  8. I am specifically responding to the Using Online Resources to Teach Effectively section. I feel like this is suuuper awesome. I am going to be an elementary teacher and most likely wouldn’t use this technique in my classroom but for older kids classrooms this is genius! In history classes that need to know about culture and lifestyle of an older time period would be able to use the radio to listen and learn. Brilliant.

  9. The thought of having just a radio versus in today’s world having another devices like T.V.’s, radios, computers, and etc. It sounded like it was an interesting historical event.I am a 90’s baby and growing up my family and I had only one T.V. that was located in the living room. Occasionally we would listen to the radio to get news updates and what have you. But normally we would turn on the T.V. to listen to the news. We only had select T.V. channels though. Looking into perspective though it is very possibly to live without a T.V. I have recently been into listening to many podcasts and they are actually very interesting.

  10. The golden age of radio was special, indeed. It’s always interesting speaking to the elderly who can remember family gathering around the radio to listen to their favorite programs because they remember it so fondly. Personally, I did not own a television through the nineties, and radio programs were an important part of my entertainment and news source as well. Yes, it is possible to live happily without a television! Currently, I often look forward to the radio program hosted by NPR called Storycorps which documents events in lives of people with a story to share.

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