Yesterday's Magazette

4- Radio Voices

The Radio Voices of Our Lives


By Marshall J. Cook

(First in a series)

I was a radio kid.

There are a lot of us still around, and for most of you, I’ll bet the memory of hunkering down in front of the big Philco console with the rest of the family in the living room or listening to the little bedside model in the dark still evokes waves of warmth and joy.

I loved radio, and I still do. Growing up, I listened to everything, Don McNeill and the Breakfast Club, Arthur Godfrey, Art Linkletter, Mom’s soaps, along with my stories, of course, The Long Ranger, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly and the rest. Radio told me stories and took me out to the ballgame, giving me the whole world of imagination.

Even though I was alone, I could imagine other kids listening to the same stories. I sent in those box tops for membership cards, badges, and decoder rings, of course, but these icons only made tangible my identity with the group.

I felt a sense of magic, too. Unlike my big brother the ham radio operator, I had no idea how a little box could possibly bring me voices and music and the sound of thundering hoofbeats.

Nostalgic? You bet I am, not just for what I listened to but for how I listened to it.

You, too?

If so, return with me now to those thrilling days of yesterday and remember some of the wonderful voices that provided the soundtrack for the lives of so many of us lucky enough to be radio kids.

Later, I’ll offer stories about some of the great radio voices and the cast of characters they had around them.

Here are some of the folks we might encounter, my highly-subjective list of:

The Top-Ten All-Time Radio Voices

Marian Jordan

As Molly McGee, she was constantly warning her husband Fibber (real-life husband Jim) not to open that closet door, which of course he always did. Behind their gentle humor and still-funny wordplay, these two radio pioneers helped create the situation comedy.

Virginia Payne

She was Ma Perkins, “America’s Mother of the Air,” her gentle voice dishing up the sage wisdom of age and experience– some trick considering that Payne was all of 23 when she won the part! She set a record for endurance and longevity while solving more problems than I would have thought could exist.

Eve Arden

A high school drop-out created the character of Connie Brooks, that funny, feisty, frustrated English teacher perpetually in pursuit of clueless colleague Philip Boynton (played by future movie star Jeff Chandler). Gale Gordon played the unforgettable blowhard principal, Osgood Conklin, and Richard Crenna was the hapless Walter Denton.

Eddie Anderson

We knew him as Rochester, Jack Benny’s gravel-voiced valet and butler, whose verbal bantering often got the better of the boss. Rochester proved to be way ahead of his time. We’ll need to talk a bit about that Benny fellow, too, and Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson, part of one of radio’s finest ensemble casts.

Orson Welles

Even before he became the perfect radio hero, a man who could “cloud men’s minds,” this Shadow scared an entire nation with a little Halloween prank called The War of the Worlds on his esteemed Mercury Theater of the Air in 1938. He then wrote, produced, directed, and starred in what many consider to be the finest movie ever made, Citizen Kane– all while still in his 20s!

Brace Beemer

He was that daring and resourceful masked man, The Lone Ranger, the perfect voice for the perfect cowboy hero. His faithful Indian companion, Tonto, was a 60 year old Shakespearean actor named John Todd!

William Conrad

“The first man they look for, and the last they want to meet, Matt Dillon, United States Marshal” on the finest western ever to air, Gunsmoke. His superb supporting cast featured Parley Baer, Howard McNear, and Georgia Ellis.

Stan Freberg

He came along just as radio’s golden era was fading but helped keep it alive by hosting When Radio Was… years later. He also created memorable commercials for radio and satires and parodies that still pack a punch and provoke laughter.

Vin Scully

For all of us who grew up listening to him, he is the voice of baseball, America’s game, and one of our finest radio storytellers. His mentor was the great play-by-play pioneer, Red Barber.

Garrison Keillor

The man from where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are way above average, this dreamweaver has brought the joy of old time radio to the modern age of the mass-media-medicated generation.

Wait. That can’t be 10 already.

I’ve had to leave out some of my favorites, and I’m sure I’ve omitted some of yours, too. Please write to tell me who they are. I’ll be at mcook@dcs.wisc.edu, listening to Dragnet or The Great Gildersleeve on www.otr.net.

So, until we next meet, same time, same station, when we ride the old west with the greatest champion of justice in the annals of history, good night, and pleasant dreams.

Vol. 38 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2011

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