Monday, September 10, 2012

Writing assignment #2: Listen to some vintage radio programs (find one online – see list). Describe what you heard: not the story but the sound quality, the language, the voices, the format of the show. Do some research and write about one in particular, or compare and contrast two of the same genre. (250-350 words; 2-3 secondary sources).


  1. Vintage Radio Program:

    The vintage radio program I chose to listen to was the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” This broadcast was an hour-long episode of the “American radio drama anthology series “The Mercury Theater on the Air.” Though this broadcast was just an “adaptation” of Welles’ book series, many of the millions of listeners believed that it was a true radio broadcast announcing the arrival of “Martians” on planet Earth. When I first began listening to the show there was so much static and shuffling. Then, instrumental music began playing. I really enjoyed the music. The static remained. A man’s voice came on the show, strong and stern. He greeted and addressed the audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen” Each time he spoke after a pause he’d address the audience and say his location. Occasionally, there would be an applause. The static still remained. When music came on, a man would introduce the musicians and the location they were being broadcasted from. There was an “interruption” in the broadcast to “warn” citizens about Martians on planet Earth. Again, the location and names of the reporters were always given. This was a reminder to the audience of who was being interviewed, who was speaking, and where they were broadcasting from…or it was for new listeners tuning in who may have missed it previously. They are constantly detailed in what they report. There is some hesitation and pauses that you would never hear in today’s radio. When music is plays, it fades out and then a reporter says “we take you now to…” and the introductions, greetings, and locations are given all over again.


    - Listened to it here:

  2. I listened to “It pays to be Ignorant,” a radio show that was popular in the mid-1940’s. I listened to the show from October 6, 1944. I noticed that the sound quality was much worse than the sound quality of most radio today. It sounded as if I were trapped in an area that could not pick up proper signals. Modern AM radio can still sound like this if one is not in a good area to pick up its signals.
    As for the language, anyone who spoke on the show spoke incredibly fast. It was also remarkably clean, with jokes that the modern person today would find rather corny and bland. The show’s humor primarily relied on puns.
    The voices were extremely varied, some voices were fairly high, others were quite low. I think this may have to do with the low sound quality of the radio of the time. They wanted listeners to make sure they knew there was someone else speaking when it was someone else who came on the show, and needed a wide range of voices.
    The show’s pace was incredibly quick. The jokes came one after another for an extended period of time, and then the show turned into a game show, with select people answering questions. Then the host would allow the audience to ask questions. The questions were mostly funny in nature and were very simple. It turns out that this is intentional. The show was a spoof of actual quiz shows and thus was much more relaxed in terms of the questions.

    Show Source:


  3. The old time radio broadcast was very much different than anything we’d be used to today. I listened to the the breaking news of the attack of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Before the program was interrupted with breaking news, It just sounded pretty much like a mix between elevator music and jazz. The music was faded out to hear the report about the initial report about D-Day that they claimed was unsubstantiated meaning that they haven’t confirmed the report yet. I find this very interesting because I felt like in today’s world that first initial report would of never happened without a confirmation of a second or third source. You hear as Irwin Darlington is reading the German bulletin, you can literally hear the radio waves in the background and also maybe typewriters reporting this story. When it fades back into the music, you can tell news is coming in when you start to hear a silence in the radio broadcast to a man talking at a further away signal as you hear the rusty signal as you hear that the reports are true and allies have invaded northern France under the command of General Eisenhower, and when it comes back to Darlington, he said calmly yet firmly, “This means invasion.” I also find it interesting how much radio is different than it is today; the format plays itself out almost like a TV broadcast today. The narrator, who is Darlington, is telling you and repeating everything he is hearing. He says now I take you out to London to hear these reports. That kind of language I don’t believe would be used at all today, but the fact that the radio was the main source of news back then plays a major part on why this is so different. You can compare this to today where social media is normally the first you hear news to be broken these days. When I listen to radio today I hardly ever hear one narrator talking and telling you he is taking you to a place as if it is some report. You hear a lot more back and forth in radio nowadays with a lot of voices talking, while in radio back then I feel like you may hear only one voice talking for five straight minutes. That being said, it was probably harder to be a radio broadcaster back then because your voice tone would have to come across as clear and yet not dull at the same time because of the length of how long you’re talking for. I personally thought the voice of Irwin Darlington sounded so clear but also monotone in a good way, if that is possible. It sounded almost as if it wasn’t a real voice talking through the waves, just a voice that was perfectly calm and clear that anyone could listen to.

  4. I chose to take a listen to an old baseball radio broadcast; the game was a 1937 duel between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. The first thing I noticed was that the first five minutes of the radio broadcast was dedicated to commercials, and if I’m not mistaken, it was all for the same gas company. It made me laugh because it was read almost the same way announcers read commercials today. “Coming down to the game? What better way than to fill up your car with ____ gas?” and so on and so on. I was actually surprised that it was the only product being advertised. However, when I dug into it a little bit, I found on that some radio commercials lasted almost two minutes long, which is insane compared to the twenty second ads we hear today. The other thing that stood out to me was the fact that there was no color commentator. All of the play-by-play, color, and PA announcing was done by the same man. He would call the play and then give color between innings and pitches, which is quite impressive considering that broadcasts to day sometimes have three announcers. Other than that it was pretty similar, the was a pre-game injury report (Babe Ruth was out with a hamstring issue) and a rundown of both team’s lineups.

    This game was played in the middle of the great depression, at a time when radio helped bring people together, and according to R.T. Johnson, “forget their problems.” In fact, the great depression, along with baseball, helped radio. At a time when radio was still in its early stages of finding audience, the depression caused radio sales to shoot to 13.5 million in 1930 ( and baseball games were a much listened to program. I’m a bit of a baseball purist, and to hear the scratchy call of a game, the typical 1930’s broadcast cadence and inflection, was really special, and if you listen closely, you can hear a typewriter going off in the background….pure nostalgia.

  5. Listening to Captain Midnight I noticed several factors within the show immediately. In terms of quality there were strains of static over the broadcast as well as that indefinable sound quality to the voices that dated it as “old-time” radio. The sound effects were also telling. Unlike today’s radio shows the sound effects used were used to draw listeners into the story rather than commentate on it—it’s the difference between the sound of sirens being used to introduce a traffic report and the sound of airplane engines used to make the listener feel as though the events described could be happening around them.

    The announcer and narrator literally put on a performance with his voice alone. While all of the characters were obviously using their voices in a performance capacity, the narrator, Pierre Andre (Widner), was most striking and memorable in his voice performance. It was a major difference from today’s talk radio shows which do just that—talk rather than perform.

    The show included ads to Ovaltine and had a heavy focus on younger viewers. Ovaltine was huge in product placement and radio advertising in the 1940s, from “Uncle Wiggly the Rabbit”, to “Little Orphan Annie” to “Captain Midnight” and so on (Mason). The Ovaltine sponsored the shows and offered numerous products, clubs, and member benefits for child viewers (Mason). The show’s structure went to announcing the show, the advertiser, offer of “membership” for child viewers, then introducing the show, setting the scene and narrating. It was whole minutes into the show before Captain Morgan ever came on, obviously prioritizing the advertising angle.

    Captain Midnight came about in response to an interest in aviation and the recent action of World War I, (Widener). The sound effects were designed to create a picture for young viewers to follow accompanied by the story. Captain Midnight is one of several radio shows of the era that ran for child audiences, unlike the majority of programs today that are focused towards teens, adults and young adults. Captain Morgan exists as a story telling outlet rather than a place of music, news or popular conversation. It was about selling products and storytelling. There was a narrator, diverse character voices, setting of scenes, description of every “action” taking place and sound effects for the each scene.

    Mason, Tom. "Collecting TV and Radio Premiums." The Crimson Collector, 2001. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. .

    Widner, James F. "Captain Midnight - History." Radio Days, 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. .

  6. Like Noor, I also listened to the vintage radio program of the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” This was an hour-long episode of the American radio drama anthology series “The Mercury Theater on the Air.” This was a controversial radio program because so many people believed there was a real martian landing on Earth. It was a pretty serious radio hoax. It started as static then turned to music until a man's voice took over. He was telling the audience where he was and that this interruption in the broadcast was to warn Earthlings of their impending encounter with martians. They continuously say their location to remind the audience where they are reporting from which I found similar to today's radio broadcasts. But overall there are few similarities between current radio and vintage radio.


  7. I listened to an episode of The Fred Allen Show from 1948-49. Before conducting any further research about Allen or the show, I noted how TV-like the show sounded. With an opening theme song, different “scenes” and various character relationships, I felt as though I could almost see what was going on. Instead of launching into a variety of unconnected jokes, Allen took relevant news issues and expounded upon them through humor.

    Allen was one of radio’s most prominent comedians of his time. He was first heard on the radio in 1930, and his show was widely listened to for nearly two decades, ranking Number 1 on the charts in 1946-47, before plummeting down to fill the 38th spot on the list in just a few short months. The Museum of Broadcast Communications attributes this loss of audience to a new ABC give-away show called Name That Tune hosted by Bert Parks, as well as to a general decline in radio listeners as people switched over to TV consumption.

    Interestingly enough, despite my initial impression of his show, Allen harbored a profound disdain for TV, dismissing it as permitting “people who haven’t anything to do to watch people who can’t do anything.” (MBC) Allen had a tendency to speak his mind about various issues, causing a lot of controversy and having his showed censored many times, according to Old Time Radio, but his increasing popularity protected his airtime.

    Allen had many contemporaries in radio comedy. His biggest nemesis was Jack Benny, whom he would make fun of quite a bit on his show. After Allen’s rating plummeted, he quickly, but not quietly, left radio, and was followed shortly thereafter by Benny and some others. He finished out his career as a true TV critic, dabbling in some comedy on TV as well.


  8. As we have seen from watching the documentary in class, most producers and people did not feel the need to keep a record of any of these old radio or TV shows. According to “Although much of radio history was lost (never recorded), existing episodes still in circulation were primarily stored by fans or sponsors of the program on transcription disk or reel-to-reel tapes.” That, I deduce, is why in listening to the pilot (no pun intended) episode of Captain Midnight (09/30/1940), the sound quality is so echoed and tinny. There is a constant whine or wheezy metallic sound that is heard in the pauses and even while they speak.

    Another thing I noticed during the program is the importance of describing the set and using natural sound. For instance, in Captain Midnight he would say things like “Very interesting… The wall in front of us, part of it seems to be moving!” His companion then responds, “You will follow me through the opening.” So we do not have visuals, but Captain Midnight is talking us through each movement so that we understand what’s happening without seeing it. He goes on to describe his entrance into the secret underground meeting room with phrases such as “Wow more surprises, a section of the floor is rising. Now I see a circular staircase.” He goes on in this fashion. It’s funny because in a real situation almost no one would describe things that they see out loud like that, but in radio it’s necessary.

    Description is very important, but another thing that brings these old time stories to life is the use of natural sound. As Captain Midnight earns his name on the secret mission, the sound of the door slamming and his plane flying in and out is one of the most obvious uses of natural sound. While the two army men discuss the possibility of his failure, the clock has just struck twelve when the propellers begin to sound signaling his arrival. Then again, as he ventures throughout the house later on we hear the secret doors sliding, the footsteps descending down the secret stair. It helps bring the story to life.

    We see this same technique in many of the drama shows. In the script of Bold Venture, episode Slate Shannon Accused of Murder, from November 30, 1949 there are special cues for “F/X” all throughout the piece. Simple sounds like “dining room sounds, door closes, he SLAPS her, BODY HITTING GROUND (original emphasis),” are the things that make the story real. Without the inclusion of these natural sounds, the show would be much less intriguing. These stories were designed to help us see the story without seeing it and sound only helps that cause.

    Captain Midnight:
    OldTimeRadioCatalog :
    Script of Bold Venture :

  9. I listened to “Little Orphan Annie” from 1936 because I remembered hearing about this program from watching A Christmas Story. Ralphie would rush home every day from school to listen to this program.
    The first thing I noticed is that the sound quality was definitely sub-par compared to modern programs. That could be attributed to the technology at the time or just to the pure fact that the program is so old. Also, the voices were very stylized. The language was over the top and not like everyday speech at all. I’m sure this was because there was nothing to watch while listening to the radio. In order to make up for this, the program had to really capture the audience’s attention. I notice this of many vintage radio programs. I thought maybe it was how people of that time talked. Now I’m seeing, or hearing, rather, that maybe it was how they needed to talk on the radio.
    One thing about “Little Orphan Annie” that I learned while researching is their means for advertising. The first, about, 3 minutes of the program was dedicated to Ovaltine. The narrator would tell the children listening to go tell their mother to buy Ovaltine. The children would also be given secret codes to decipher for a special message; usually about Ovaltine. A lot of earlier radio also had product placement ads, when the actors would insert a product into their skit and talk about it for a brief second. While I would initially say that TV does see this, I would actually say it does, just in a different way. The actors may not talk specifically about a product, but the product will be put in plain sight in a certain scene. This is just another aspect that exemplifies the emphasis on the voice in a radio program.
    I also have to note that it was very hard for me to concentrate on this show. I found myself wandering off to an episode of the Kardashians. We have become such a visually-oriented generation that it's hard for us to imagine a time when radio was all that was available.

    1. I found the episode on Youtube, by the way.

    2. Sources:

  10. Gunsmoke (1952- 1961) presented the adventures of US Marshall Matt Dillon in the rough and tumble town of Dodge City. In addition to Dillon there was also a cast of archetypal characters; the dependable sidekick, the grumpy but warm doctor, the beautiful possible love interest. It’s remarkable to see how the voice actors worked with the script to demonstrate the personality of each character, without the aid of visuals. I remember when I was a little girl, the host of the Big Broadcast Ed Walker called the town bar owner Kitty as “lovely”. And I remember wondering how on Earth could he know since there was only her voice to go on. But the voice acting really, truly transmutes a sense of a beautiful character. On the other hand, Chester has a slowed, more simplistic speech which stands in contrast to the very commanding voice of actor William Conrad’s baritone.
    Gunsmoke was lauded for its realism, not just in sound effects but also in its gritty realism. The justice crusader is as psychologically complex as the criminals he pursues. And the reality he faces is stark and unforgiving. For example in the episode I listened to, a man was lynched by an angry mob, before Dillon could save him.
    As formerly mentioned the realism of the show was helped by the high production value of the sound effects. The sounds of bullets and of horses and of people talking in the bar behind Kitty and the Marshall
    But a few questions did arise while I listened to this particular episode.I couldn’t help but wonder at the racial overtones, or rather the lack of racial overtones. Chester is supposed to be a Native American character, and he mentioned how his cousin got lynched because his cousin, “did” and saw the cattle running free. Lynchings are so connected to negative race perceptions that. I also marveled at the writers nuance in dealing with the morality of the situation. While Dillon is against the undue lynching of a man, he still engaged in a duel.

  11. Rocky Fortune (Oct. 6, 1953) Ep. 1 “Oyster Shucker”
    NBC, 25 total episodes, 26 weeks (Oct. 1953 to March 1954)

    I didn’t know what to expect when I came across this show. I mean, it’s Frank Sinatra, it has to be good, right? As I conducted my research, however, I discovered that the show came out right around a time when his popularity had begun to flicker and he used the broadcast as a way to promote his acting exploits in From Here to Eternity with hopes of garnering Oscar consideration. Was this 24-minute audio clip going to taint my glorified perception of Ol’ Blue Eyes?

    Not a chance. The broadcast starts off with a lazy, bluesy jazz score –presumably the theme song of the show –and announcer Eddie King introducing Sinatra as “that footloose and frequently unemployed young gentleman, Rocky Fortune.” Considering the fact that the show’s premise was Rocky finding a new odd job every week, frequently unemployed is an understatement. “Hi, I don’t know what it is about me and employment. We start out together but then sooner or later we reach a fork in the road, usually sooner,” Sinatra says with his quick “bada bing, bada boom” delivery.

    Throughout the rest of the show, I found myself captivated by how much of Sinatra’s personality trickles out of his character. His charm and wittiness were palpable, as he smooth-talked dames, impudently put down authoritative figures and whaled on tough guys, all in typical Sinatra fashion.

    I was impressed by the seamless scene progressions as well. I’m no expert, but I could pick up on simple, effective devices that showed depth and action. I remember one scene in particular demonstrated great depth, in which Rocky screws up an order of oysters, resulting in the customer roaring in the “dining room,” the waiter nervously entering the kitchen asking what happened, followed by the enraged customer storming into the kitchen demanding answers. You could sense the timing and weighted sound amplification that was required to bring those events to life.

    Overall, I enjoyed the show’s first episode. It was a lively, albeit impossible, story that I could follow and envision as it went along. And, by the way, Sinatra actually did go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.


  12. Devin Turk
    Journalism 479G
    Radio Assignment
    For the radio assignment I decided to listen to an episode of the program Amos ‘n’ Andy. Amos ‘n’ Andy was a show that took place in Chicago in 1928 about two black characters, the modest, pragmatic Amos and the blustery, self-confident Andy (Radio Hall of Fame). They were two men who moved from Alabama to Illinois in search of fortune (Widner).
    The actors who played the characters were actually white men named Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. The men mimicked African American vernacular to sound like black men (Deane, Pam). Because of this Amos ‘n’ Andy’s humor caused much controversy among African-Americans (Radio Hall of Fame).
    Even with the controversy, the show wildly successful. In the 1930’s, over 40 million listeners tuned in every night (Radio Hall of Fame). It went on to be the longest running radio program in history (Deane, Pam).
    A few things stood out to me when I listened to the program. The most noticeable thing I heard was a constant static sound in the background that distracted me at first, but I had gotten used to by the end. I immediately noticed the way they spoke; very slow and drawn out, with a bit of a southern twang. You could tell that they were trying to sound like two African American southern men, and if I hadn’t of read the truth, I would have believed it.
    The acting was surprisingly good and the story was creative as well. It was a bit outdated but the point still got across. Overall I enjoyed listening to the show but I cannot imagine myself ever crowding around a radio as my source of entertainment.

    Deane, Pam. "AMOS 'N' ANDY SHOW - The Museum of Broadcast Communications."AMOS
    'N' ANDY SHOW - The Museum of Broadcast Communications. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. .
    "Radio Hall of Fame -Amos 'n' Andy." Radio Hall of Fame -Amos 'n' Andy. Radio Hall of Fame,
    n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. .
    Widner, James F. "Old-Time Radio Days - Amos N' Andy." Old-Time Radio Days - Amos N'
    Andy. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. .

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  15. For this assignment I listened to the 1944 radio broadcast “A date with Judy - Father’s day.” I came across the program on I chose this broadcast because it was a comedy and aimed towards a teenage audience. When the program started, I immediately noticed the static background noise, the kind I hear nowadays when I mistakenly turn to AM stations on the radio. Although the background noise wasn’t crisp and clear, it wasn’t a major problem while listening. I also noticed there was a narrator throughout the program who basically told you a little summary of what was going to happen in the next scene of the show. There was also a studio audience because I constantly heard clapping and laughing throughout the show. I have to admit; I didn’t really think a lot of the jokes were funny that the audience would laugh at. Being that this program was for a younger audience, I assumed I would’ve understood the humor, but I guess I was wrong since it was so old. The characters spoke properly and I didn’t hear any foul language. They would say things like ‘mother’ and ‘father’ instead of just ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. Although the characters spoke proper English, I thought they sounded a bit cartoonish. I also noticed instrumental music being played when the show was going to commercial and also when it was returning from commercial. The commercials were all about the same thing, Tums, unlike commercials today on the radio that are different every time and very long. There would only be one commercial during the breaks and I liked that because I hate how long the radio programs now go on commercial. But I was a little confused of why Tums would be the main advertisements for a teenaged aimed show.