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Radio used to be sole source of family entertainment

Columnist recalls listening to news, soap operas, commercials, fairy and scary tales, entertainers and music too


Radio used to mean so much more to me than it does now.

Perhaps one of my earliest memories of paying any real attention to it was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to us about the Japanese invasion of Hawaii. He said that Dec. 7, 1941, was "a date which will live in infamy" (not a "day" as so many people misquote it). That was a very serious time.

Before that, radio brought us adventures with Little Orphan Annie, whose sponsor was Ovaltine, and Captain Midnight, who offered things to send for (like secret decoding rings). And who could forget Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, who made Wheaties so famous?

Soap operas were what my mother used to listen to. "Stella Dallas" was dramatic, as was "Our Gal Sunday." "Helen Trent" was a romance. Then there was "Lum and Abner" and "Fibber McGee and Molly" for humor.

We knew all the commercial jingles by heart and could sing "Rinso white" or "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot" as though they were popular tunes of the day.

When my father had time to listen to radio, he liked the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

As young girls, my sister and I had our Saturday morning time planned to be near the radio for "Let's Pretend," a wonderful series of fairy tales like "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," "Jack and the Beanstalk" or "Snow White and Rose Red."

There were really good actors reading those roles, and we could picture them appearing any way we wanted.

Every year as Christmas approached, we couldn't wait for "The Cinnamon Bear" to help Judy and Jimmy find the Silver Star.

When we got a little older, there was Sam Spade the detective, a new type of program. Some really scary programs got popular too. I don't know who the actor was, but "Raymond," the host on "Inner Sanctum," could send chills down our spines with just his voice and the sound of the squeaky door at the beginning of the program.

We would listen to it or "The Shadow" at bedtime with the lights turned off. We pulled the covers up high and really "saw" those stories play out on the screens inside our heads.

The absolute scariest one was called "Lights Out." Our dad kept the door open between our bedroom and his while we listened. I don't know if it was to make us feel safer or just because he really wanted to hear it too.

Jack Benny and Fred Allen were so entertaining, and we would plan our homework around the times when favorite programs like those were on. Changing the station took a careful hand because the static between the main networks was difficult to eliminate until you got honed in on the correct number. There were no remotes or push buttons to take you right to the spot.

As teenagers, radio was where we heard the tunes we fell in love to. We just had to go out and buy the 45-rpm records of the individual songs when our allowances came.

When record players came out with automatic changers, we could put a stack of them on and dance the night away at one of our house parties. On the day of a party, we would move the furniture back, wax the hardwood floor in the living room, and polish the floor by putting on thick socks and sliding around to the music.

I especially remember Les Brown and his Band of Renown with "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." There were the Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller bands, and later on, Frankie Laine and Johnny Mathis filling our heads with wonderful music. There were none of today's screaming vocalists or off-color lyrics to make us cringe.

In the early '50s, after getting married and following my husband to various Air Force bases, I was homesick for Portland. It helped to pass the time while caring for my 6-month-old baby by listening to the presidential election coverage between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.

The radio was background noise while raising my own teenagers. I kept up with Elvis, then The Beatles and all other popular groups, because my girls had their transistors on, but I preferred TV music shows like Andy Williams and Dean Martin.

Today I seldom play the radio except to hear Christmas music while driving the car. I also switch to radio when important basketball games are on TV. The national TV sports anchors are so full of talk of themselves or certain sports stars that they ignore what's going on in the game.

On radio, the announcers call the game play-by-play, and I can picture the players running up and down the floor, or slamming the ball into the basket. The action is clear in my mind's eye, much as were the scenes of the fairy tale stories almost 75 years ago.

Like when reading a good book, I can use that special gift we are given called imagination.

Lynn S. Turner is a Tigard resident who likes to look at the world in unusual ways.