Friday, July 31, 2009

Wistful vistas...

It was early February 1949, and high snow drifts were everywhere, barely a month after the infamous “Blizzard of ‘49” had wreaked havoc on mid-America. Cold weather and lingering drifts covered my hometown of Chadron, Nebraska, and communities all across the heartland.

Even when snowstorms didn’t keep us cooped up at home, winter evenings would usually find us gathered around the Philco console radio in the living room, listening to the likes of Dragnet, Our Miss Brooks, Lux Radio Theatre, or The Great Gildersleeve.

On February 3, 1949, two veteran radio comedians left the laughter for guest roles in an episode of Suspense, the weekly radio drama that was “calculated to keep you in…. suspense.” It was a popular show with new stars performing every week – a favorite around the Miller house. Jim Jordan and his wife Marian were widely known as Fibber McGee and Molly, with distinctive voices that still conjure up warm memories of early radio. On that February evening, they played it straight in an episode called “Backseat Driver.”

I was only five years old when the original episode was broadcast. And while I don’t specifically remember hearing it, there’s a pretty good chance that the Miller family was tuned in for the broadcast.

It was great fun last night (7/30/09) hearing a rebroadcast of this show as I traveled the road from Spearfish to Denver. This time, the program came not from an AM station out of Omaha, but via XM satellite radio Channel 164. No matter, the familiar voices of Fibber McGee and Molly transported me to a different place..... and a different time.

While it was satellite technology that beamed this program to my pickup truck, there was nothing particularly “high tech” about the radio show itself. Simple but effective sound effects, good writing, and superb acting carried the day. No 3-D. No high definition. No surround sound. Simply a good story that was well told.

Just as CBS revived its CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the 1970s to a new generation of radio listeners – including my son – XM is helping introduce the “Golden Days of Radio” to a largely new audience.

Given the tripe that permeates much of the airwaves – radio and television – these days, it’s good to occasionally re-visit those simpler days, when radio programs painted pictures in our minds – requiring listeners to participate, quite willingly and effortlessly, with their own imaginations, in creating those images.

Those were the days!

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