One of my earliest childhood memories is listening to the radio in the family car. As we glided down the road in a 1948 Ford coupe I was amazed at how voices and music came out of a little contraption called a radio.

AM radio and the local newspaper were the primary means of informing and entertaining Americans during the years I was growing up.  By the time my family got that first television set in the 1950s, I was already an avid listener to radio.

Television may have moving pictures but radio has something in it’s arsenal which makes it very powerful. By using sound and description of events such as in storytelling, it stimulates imagination in a way TV can’t. 

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Girl listening to the radio 1940s

There were some fun and exciting  programs on the radio for children during the 1950s.  Programs such as Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The Green Hornet, Red Ryder and his side kick Little Beaver, Superman, The Lone Ranger, Sky King  and of course Lassie. As I got a little older I started listening to shows involving drama and mystery. Shows such as Dragnet, The FBI in Peace and War and Tarzan. All these shows kept me glued to the radio for hours. Listen to the Green HornetLassie  … Tarzan

The parents of baby boomers listened to radio programs during the 1920s through the 1930s as kids. Later on those same kids from the 20s and 30s passed radio listening on to their children. My parents would often tell me how much their enjoyed growing up with the radio.

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Boys listening to the radio 1950s

Radio began years ago thanks to early scientists discovering electromagnetic waves and how those waves could be used to transmit sound through the air.

On 21 April 1820, during a lecture, Hans Christian Oersted a Danish physicist and chemist  noticed a compass needle deflected from magnetic north when an electric current from a battery was switched on and off, confirming a direct relationship between electricity and magnetism. Three months later he did more intensive investigations and soon published his findings, showing that an electric current produces a circular magnetic field as it flows through a wire.

In 1830, English physicist Michael Faraday confirmed Oersted’s theory, and established the principle of electromagnetic induction.

In 1864, James Clerk Maxwell, a physics professor at Cambridge University, published a theoretical paper stating that electromagnetic currents could be perceived at a distance.

In the late 1880s, German physicist Heinrich Hertz tested Maxwell’s theory. He succeeded in producing electromagnetic waves, and confirmed Maxwell’s prediction about their speed.

Then the man you have probably heard about or read about in school got involved. Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, brought electromagnetic waves out of the laboratory and into the world.

As a student Marconi had an interest in science and electricity and in the early 1890s he began working on the idea of “wireless telegraphy” or the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as used by the electric telegraph.

In the summer of 1894, he built a storm alarm made up of a battery, a coherer (an early detector that changed resistance when exposed to radio waves), and an electric bell, which went off if there was lightning.  He then made a bell ring on the other side of the room by pushing a telegraphic button.

Marconi moved his experimentation outdoors and continued to experiment. He tried different arrangements and shapes of antenna but even with improvements he was only able to transmit signals up to one-half mile. Marconi found that much greater range could be achieved after he raised the height of his antenna and, borrowing from a technique used in wired telegraphy, grounding his transmitter and receiver. With these improvements he soon was transmitting signals up to 2 miles.

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Guglielmo Marconi operating his radio equipment 1903

More short-distance broadcasts continued in his backyard. then in September, 1899, he astounded the world by telegraphing the results of the America’s Cup yacht races from a ship at sea to a land-based station in New York. By the end of 1901, Marconi had founded his own commercial wireless company and broadcast the first transatlantic signal.

From that point on the world would see a steady stream of development and inventions pushing the radio forward.

Lee de Forest an American inventor broadcast an experimental radio transmission on January 13, 1910 of a live Metropolitan Opera House performance in New York City.  This wireless radio transmission of the operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is regarded as the birth of public radio broadcasting.

The first commercial radio station in the world is considered to be KDKA (1020 kHz AM located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. KDKA was granted a license on October 27, 1920. It’s first broadcast was the 1920 Harding-Cox presidential election results on the evening of November 2, 1920.

Before long the “Golden Age of Radio” began. Starting in the early 1920s and lasting until the late 1950s, radio was the dominant electronic home entertainment medium. Then around the beginning of the 1960s television replaced radio as the medium of choice for scripted programming.

During the heyday of radio the popular formats were classical music, country music, comedy shows, mystery, adventure and detective serials plus westerns. The westerns were my favorite to listen to during the 1950s and 60s.

Even though a majority of the “Golden Age of Radio” shows were made before I was born, those programs of the 1930s and 40s were played in the 1950s and 60s as reruns. Listening to shows from years before was then possible because of reruns. I was hearing them for the first time and my parents could hear them once again. Sometimes as a family we would listen to certain shows if nothing good was on TV.

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Teen taking a break from her chores 1950s

After Rock and Roll took off in the 1950s and 60s, rock music replaced a lot of the radio formats I listened to as a kid. As a teenager most of us boomers ended up listening to Rock music rather than radio dramas. Now that I’m a bit older and time has passed, my appreciation of those old radio shows has grown stronger.

Thanks to the internet most of the radio programs I enjoyed as a young boy can be found online. That is good news especially if you want to revisit those old programs or if you want to expose the grandkids to some entertainment that will stimulate their imagination. Listen to Old Time Radio

Listening to stories on the radio is just another way of telling a story. Storytelling is an ancient form of communication. For years and years people have passed on traditions, legends, and historic events through stories. Just like the old radio days when families gathered around and listened together, children today can benefit from the same thing.

Hearing an old radio show can open a child’s mind to the inner world of imagination and creative thinking. Children can tap into their imaginative minds and in the end provide their own imagery. Just like in reading a good book, radio shows old and new can transport you to another time and place. From living in the old west to tracking down wanted criminals … you can listen and before you know it you are there.

Contributed by

Craig Francom

Craig Francom was born in San Diego California and raised in Midvale Utah. Craig had a "Leave it to Beaver" childhood. If not at the local fishing hole, camping out …

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