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. this is really good article with helpful tips on how to teach students about the topic. It would not have been my first thought to have them listen to an old show on the radio. this to me is an interesting topic to teach because it is amazing to see how far we have come from back them. it a great way to see the past and how things were back then in a fun and exciting way verses just telling someone about it.

  2. Prior to reading this article, I had never thought of using historical radio broadcasts in my classroom. Not only would this teaching tool allow students to get information from a unique primary source, but they would most likely be interested in the familiar media. While young students may not listen to the radio often anymore, it would be a great lesson to teach students the importance of the media throughout history. As explained in the article, I think using these radio broadcasts is also a great way to show students how people lived and viewed life in certain time periods.

  3. I have always found the golden age of radio very interesting and a unique time in our history. As a teacher, I think that there are so many activities that you could do with radio segments for example you could teach primary resources and specific events in history. You could also do an activity comparing time now vs time then.

  4. As a future educator in a middle school setting it is often hard to gain the attention of the students for long periods of time. Using primary sources such as radio recordings of historical events will allow the students to understand that the events they are learning about were real and they actually did happen. I think having my students listen to primary sources of audio tapes allows them to gain a certain interest in the topic as well. It is also important to look at the technology influence as the years have gone by, people use to listen to the nightly radio for entertainment and now people have TVs for entertainment.

  5. As a future teacher, I think using radio broadcasts would be a great classroom tool. It not only is educating the students but it is giving them real life situations. Growing up we had so many tv’s in our home, along with cell phones and multiple computers. I could not imagine living with just one radio to get information from the outside world. Of course it is possible and simple, but I feel like in today’s society no one would know how to live without all of the electronics and technology we have in our homes.

  6. I think incorporating primary sources when teaching social studies is very important but I had never considered using radio broadcasts before and I think that is a really great idea. By listening to the radio students will be able to have a better understanding of what it was like to live in a certain time period in history and it would be way more engaging to the students than reading a text book. There are many awesome lessons that could incorporate listing to radio broadcasts.

  7. I love listening to radio! My grandparents constantly talk about how the times before television. I enjoyed this article because it talked about the golden years of when the radio was in its prime. It seems strange to me how once people went to the radio for information since it was there only source. Now I reach for my phone to have instant access to information.

  8. I don’t often think of radio as having that much popularity because most people prefer to get their news from the TV, internet, and even a newspaper. I think that main draw towards these outlets are the visual aspects that come along with the auditory ones. But it is understandable that during the Golden Age of radio when these visual outlets were not available, that radio was such a big deal. One lesson that I think would be so fun for students would be for them to act as radio hosts from the Golden Age and they would create a radio show for the rest of their class and talk about a historical event as if it were happening then. I think this would be engaging and is a whole new way for students to learn about past historical events.

  9. I never thought about using radio to teach American history, but I think it’s a great resource to show students the attitudes of people in that time period and how they lived. Podcasts are such a popular thing in today’s society, so it makes sense to access radio shows from the past when teaching history. I think students would be very engaged in listening to radio shows because it is something different, rather than watching a film or reading a text. Using radio as a resource seems very authentic. I have checked out some of the radio programs you listed, and I’m so excited to use it in my own teaching! These are great resources for not just teachers, but for anyone that is interested in American history.

  10. I think that radio is a great way to show an era. Different clips from past radio viewings can really showcase an era. Music in general affects peoples moods and I feel like podcasts and music from certain times can really help certain kids so the lesson about that era, sticks in their head. Not only will students be learning about the era, they’ll be hearing how people talked and how they sounded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.