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On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio Hardcover – May 7, 1998
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From Library Journal
Mystery writer and radio talk show host Dunning has expertly compiled and organized a massive amount of research data on hundreds of radio shows aired from the 1920s through the 1960s. The entries, listed alphabetically by show title, each contain a treasure trove of information?broadcast dates, casts and personnel, anecdotes, special analyses, and a detailed overview of each show's background, format, and content. Entries range from popular series such as Amos 'n' Andy and The Green Hornet to the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the NBC University Theatre?everything from soaps, Westerns, and comedy to sports, drama, and documentaries. An extensive bibliography and index enhance the book's appeal. For those who once gathered around the console, the more than 700 pages of entries should provide a wonderful stroll down memory lane. Historians and researchers will also find this a valuable reference tool, offering new discoveries and insights. For reference libraries with large media collections.?Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
As he did in Tune in Yesterday: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Prentice Hall, 1976), Dunning here provides a storehouse of information about the people and programs of radio's Golden Age (1930s, 1940s, 1950s). The storehouse, however, has been thoroughly remodeled and refurbished. The amount of material covered has been considerably expanded and its presentation carefully reorganized.
Some 1,500 radio shows, listed in alphabetical order, are described in concise articles linked with an extensive system of cross-referencing. The cross-referencing is crucial, because someone looking for Ozzie and Harriet or Sam Spade will need to know that both programs are listed in the main part of the text under The Adventures of.... The articles vary in length, from the briefest of paragraphs (The Billie Burke Show and Linda's First Love) to several pages (The Lone Ranger and The Mercury Theater of the Air). Each program entry consists of title and broadcast history (including exact starting and ending dates, day and timeslot, network, announcer, sponsor, etc.). This is followed by an essay that often imparts all manner of detail, or, in the case of those short entries, a capsule description of the program.
Although the majority of the articles are about individual programs, there are also a number of survey articles, such as sports broadcasts, concert broadcasts, and news broadcasts. Here, too, the cross-referencing is essential in order to find information about a specific program that might fall under one of those categories and is not listed separately. There is an extensive bibliography, which will be of great help to those wishing to pursue the subject further.
In the electronically connected world of today, it is hard to imagine a time (not so long ago) when there was but one medium of electronic information. The rich detail in this solid work helps convey the flavor of that earlier time. Devotees of classic television shows may be surprised to find out that such programs as Father Knows Best, Our Miss Brooks, Queen for a Day, and Sky-King all started as radio programs. A worthy addition to most reference collections, this volume is an interesting portrait of a time when radio was more than background music or xenophobic talk shows. Another recent publication, the Historical Dictionary of American Radio [RBB Ag 98], covers a wider range of topics related to radio but has far less coverage of individual programs.
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Rather than replace "Tune in Yesterday" with this volume (or not buy "Tune in Tomorrow" at all), I'd advise people who are really into old-time radio to own both as companion pieces. If you prefer to buy just one or the other, I'd say but this one. It'll be a little more expensive than a lot of books about old-time radio, but it's worth it. Just consider "On the Air" the Bible (or Koran or Dhammapada or Bhagavad Gita) of Old-Time Radio.
I have one quibble, which makes me give it 4 instead of 5 stars. There is no article in the book on any of the three (later four) broadcast companies - NBC (with its Red and Blue separate networks), CBS, Mutual and after 1943, ABC (which was the former Blue Network of NBC, forced to sell by anti trust legal action). A quick history of these networks would have made for an extra 7 or 8 pages and would have added a lot of useful background information.
Other than this one shortcoming, the book is a gem.
The Abbott & Costello and Jack Benny sections are great.
The Fibber McGee and Molly section is wonderful describing their trials and tribulations on the radio. It really was a different time with the media, when they explain why Molly went off the air for 18 months. That could never have been hidden now.
Burns and Allen tells the story well of their love story. How Gracie got "discovered" is a strong read.
Hopalong Cassidy - the actor cleaned up his live to match the character he played.
I never knew that Gunsmoke was a radio show first. Or that there were so much more open about the relationship between Marshall Dillon and Kitty.
Have Gun Will Travel is interesting that it went from TV to radio. Though the author is wrong about the relationship between Paladin and Hey Boy - at least on the TV show. If that is the way it was on the radio show, they certainly missed one of the charms of the TV show.
I Love a Mystery - the show that led to a formal protest from the Nicaraguan government (!). Were they trying to protect the real Temple of Vampires?
I'm not at all surprised that Gene Autry kept getting fired from jobs, because he couldn't stop singing.
The Hour of Charm is really interesting to read about, as it had an all-girl orchestra. And the restrictions on them were remarkable - their contracts said they couldn't get married, weigh over 122 lbs. and if they wanted to date it had to be approved by a 5 woman committee.
As a child who grew up with 30's and 40's cartoons, a lot of their dialogue makes more sense, as I read the book and the various catchphrases.
Just about every series that aired on one of the four major radio networks, along with many syndicated programs and those on smaller regional networks, is listed with its first and final air dates, the times and days of the week it aired, its network and sponsor, and its primary actors. But what makes this book worth its weight in gold is the descriptions provided by Mr. Dunning of each program. Some of these descriptions are only a sentence or two, but the more famous programs are looked at in length. The reader is treated to literally pages of history, background, and highlights of those series (The Jack Benny Program takes up over seven double-column pages!), and it's in these that the affection and warmth Mr. Dunning has for his subject shines through. I easily find myself just browsing through this book.
If you love old-time radio or know somebody who is, get this book without delay!