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OLD-TIME RADIO

In the days before television, there was radio. Many of today’s generation of older adults grew up in an era in which the radio was the main source of entertainment and news. Listening to the radio was a nightly ritual for many families. All ears would be tuned in to a favorite radio show. There was plenty of music on the airwaves as well. Rekindle some nostalgic memories of old-time radio with your group. Try a few of these activities:

  • Show a vintage photograph of a family gathered around the radio. Ask: What did your family like to listen to together on the radio? What was your favorite radio show as a child? Teenager? How often did you listen to the radio? Describe the impact of radio on your childhood. How did listening to the radio spark your imagination?
  • Display old Bakelite table top radios or show pictures of various radio designs such as cathedral or tombstone. Ask: What did your family’s radio look like? Describe the style and shape. Did it require any warm-up time? Can you recall its manufacturer (Crosley, Motorola, Emerson, or Zenith)? Did you ever own a wooden console radio? How difficult was it to build a crystal radio set?
  • Read an old radio script to your group, one that requires some simple sound effects. Challenge your group to simulate the sound effects. Or, listen to a recording of an old radio serial and identify the sound effects in the show.
  • Display a photograph of popular radio personality Kate Smith. Listen to Kate’s rendition of “God Bless America.” Learn the history of the song, written by Irving Berlin. Ask participants to share any special memories associated with the song.
  • Reminisce about the popularity of radio quiz shows, like Information Please, You Bet Your Life, or Quiz Kids. Hold some trivia contests with your group, or try a home version of Jeopardy!
  • Ask participants to recite old radio jingles for products such as Wheaties, Pepsi-Cola, Chiquita Bananas, Brylcreem, Alka Seltzer, or Pepsodent. Write a new jingle for one of these products.
  • Listen to recordings of old radio comedy shows, such as The Jack Benny Show, Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, or The Life of Riley. Share recollections of favorite on-air “characters” – Senator Claghorn, Baby Snooks, Rochester, Clem Kadiddlehopper.
  • Host a simple country-western party with music from 1940s Grand Ole Opry stars (Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold, Red Foley). Dress up in western wear and serve some comfort foods. Invite some local dancers to demonstrate square dancing or country line dancing. Ask for a volunteer to play the harmonica.
  • Play some old radio theme songs and ask participants whose they were. (Examples: “Love in Bloom” – Jack Benny; “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” – Kate Smith; “Thanks for the Memory” – Bob Hope; “Where the Blue of the Night” – Bing Crosby; “Seems Like Old Times” – Arthur Godfrey)
  • Create a version of Franklin Roosevelt’s radio “fireside chat.” Record the message and play it back for the group.
  • Show photographs of baseball legends from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Ask: Did your family listen to baseball games on the radio? Which team was your favorite? Do you remember a popular baseball announcer? How did the game change for you when you were able to watch a live game on TV?
  • Plan a radio show with your group. Construct an old-fashioned microphone as a prop. Participants can read the news headlines, write a commercial for an old product, sing a song, share some corny jokes, or read baseball scores.
  • Share recollections of hometown radio stations. Ask: Did your hometown have a local radio station? What “radio voice” do you remember? What kind of music did you enjoy? Do you recall a deejay promoting the Big Band sound? Which singers do you remember listening to on the radio in the 1940s? Pass out old postcards and encourage group members to write down song requests from the 1940s. Play some of the songs for the group.
  • Play some well-known Christian hymns and ask participants to identify them. Talk about listening to old-time gospel programs on the radio, like The Old-Fashioned Revival Hour or The Greatest Story Ever Told. Share memories of a favorite radio minister.
  • Invite an amateur radio operator to show his or radios and talk about proper radio etiquette on the air.

OLD-TIME RADIO TRIVIA QUIZ

  1. What was the name of the famous 1938 radio broadcast in which Orson Welles warned Americans of an invasion from Mars? The War of the Worlds
  2. Which U.S. president delivered Fireside Chats to the American public via radio from 1933-1944? Franklin Roosevelt
  3. Which radio comedian had a long-running on-air “feud” with Jack Benny? Fred Allen
  4. Which female radio personality held war bond marathons on the radio in the early 1940s? Kate Smith
  5. The WSM Barn Dance, a country music program, was later renamed what? Grand Ole Opry
  6. Which instrument did radio host Arthur Godfrey play? Ukulele
  7. Which juvenile radio western opened with a hearty “Hi-yo, Silver” call? The Lone Ranger
  8. Which Big Band orchestra leader was nicknamed the “King of Swing”? Benny Goodman
  9. Who was the wife and radio partner of comedian George Burns? Gracie Allen
  10. William Conrad created the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on which radio western? Gunsmoke

THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH

“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” ~ Danny Kaye

“OLD-TIME RADIO” written by Sue Hansen. © 2011 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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