Do you remember the days of radio?
Pequot Lakes historical columnist Karen Bye shares her fond memories
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men … The Shadow knows … Hoo-hoo-haa-ha-ha.”
Hearing that hollow voice was scary enough to stand your hair on end, especially as the show played in the boundless imagination of your mind.
In the dark ages before television and social media gave us 24-hour news coverage and entertainment beyond our wildest dreams, people got along well with the technology available to them and, of course, didn’t miss what they never had.
Radio was a long time coming and when it got here, it was a huge deal.
Marconi is a name associated with early radio development, but giving him full credit for inventing the radio is simplifying the process too much.
The work of individual theorists, experimenters and discoverers in many countries over many decades contributed to the miracle of successful radio transmission. Groundbreakers such as Hertz, Bell, Edison and Tesla, naming only a few, started from scratch or built on the results discovered by colleagues and ultimately made radio transmission possible and practical.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the world was in the midst of some pretty astounding breakthroughs in the way humans would communicate from then on. Electricity, telephone, photography, wireless telegraphy — suddenly, news could be shared across vast distances in the blink of an eye.
The invention of these tools of communication was a complicated process, accomplished outside the scope of your average citizen, but embraced eagerly.
Just imagine the sensation of sending your voice clear across the country, around the world, to the next town. The scope of that feat is beyond calculation. Every time another person made a first phone call the miracle played out again.
I grew up during the entire last half of the 20th century. I spent my childhood pre-TV but right in the middle of radio.
The radio in our house stood on the living room floor — your typical museum piece. It was made of wood and had large buttons on the front for turning it on, finding the right station and fine-tuning. The face of the dial lit up when the radio was on.
External speakers — no. Earphones — no. It was strictly bare bones and phenomenal.
Even back in those days, kids' shows were available and they were always a big deal. My favorite when I was quite young was “Let’s Pretend.” It was like being read to.
My brother liked “Bobby Benson and the B bar B Riders.” We both liked “Sergeant Preston and his dog Yukon King” and “Straight Arrow” with the cards in Shredded Wheat cereal boxes showing us ways to live with the land.
Of course, soap operas had to have been invented for radio. They were very popular. Our mother liked “Judy and Jane,” “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “Stella Dallas,” “Backstage Wife.” The list is long.
I did try to listen in; but frankly, they were a little boring. Reading these titles takes me back, though.
The mysteries — now there was a subject made for radio. Listening to the radio programs made the imagination come alive. And nothing feeds the young imagination like creepy voices and scary music. Remember?
In addition to “The Shadow," there was “The Whistler." The sounds of footsteps and whistling in the dark were guaranteed creepy.
A creaking door, “Oh … hello-o-o ...” That was “Inner Sanctum.”
The happy news is that not all of the shows were terrifying. For example, “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,” “I Love a Mystery” and “Dragnet” were your normal, average detective stories, as I recall.
In our local area, Brainerd had a radio station that broadcast those shows to us. They also had local programming and a slightly distant but courageous relative of ours had a noon-time radio show from there. He’d do requests, play the guitar and sing country western style music.
That was cool.
So as we sail away on the wings of Facebook or Netflix or just hang out on the internet, it’s good to wonder where it all started and give credit to the geniuses who went before us and made all of it possible.
Look it up. Let curiosity be your guide.
Karen Bye is vice president of the Pequot Lakes Area Historical Society and loves history.