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On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio Hardcover – May 7, 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (May 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195076788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195076783
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 2.4 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Clarke VINE VOICE on July 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This review is going to be formatted differently than usual. Right off, I'm just going to start by saying that every old-time radio fan reading this needs to just stop reading right now and buy a copy of On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. John Dunning definitive encyclopedia of the golden age (and then some) of radio needs to be on the shelf of anyone who dares to call himself a fan.
Building from his earlier work, Tune in Yesterday, John Dunning (a long-time fan of radio himself) has written the encyclopedia of radio. I didn't have my copy for a long time and had no idea what I was missing. You'll not only be graced with full schedules and showtimes, but also the history of each show, sometimes with memorable quotes from favorite episodes.
The index alone is worth the price of the book, with actors cross-referenced to shows you didn't even know they appeared in. The bold page numbers steer the reader to the featured articles, but reading all the related articles is fun, too. Heck, even just browsing can while away hours of your time, as each show entry will remind you of another that you just have to look up. While looking up one show, the eye crosses the title of another on the page heading and, bang, you're away and have forgotten what you took the book down off the shelf for to begin with. In this way, you'll learn the names of favorite character actors whose voices you recognize from different shows, but whose name escape your memory (Frank Lovejoy and Elliott Lewis leap to my mind). Then, you can look them up in the index and discover more of their work for you to seek out.
Of course, even with a book this size, not all of the shows are going to have exhaustive articles, but Dunning has done as much as one man possibly can.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The great value of this book as a "good read" or as an aid to sorting one's collection of old time radio recordings is covered very well by other reviewers on this site. I want to point out its use as an educational tool. Social Studies classes are all too often made boring by reliance on textbooks (which are either outdated or too politically correct to be of any use) or on films and tapes, which are better but still pretty factual (whatever the bias) and dull to many students. I have always in my classes used the music of the period to liven things up a bit; but what about using radio broadcasts? Each one of them is a reflection of the people and events that shaped these shows and so many of them are available on tapes and CDs from such catalogues as Radio Spirits. <On the Air> is a fantastic resource manual for a teacher who wants to see what is appropriate for any particular class and to provide the background information for the students. Oxford University Press might want to consider this angle in their advertizing. But even all this aside, it does make for some fascinating reading!
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Format: Hardcover
Most OTR (old time radio) fans began the way I did: hearing a snatch of a show, being mildly intrigued, picking up a few shows on cassette, then finding shows that you love and getting the whole series in mp3 (most online auction houses have these at a very reasonable price), and then ending up as collectors and full time hobbyists. You can now buy hundreds of shows for a few bucks and load them onto your ipod in seconds. OTR is a great entertainment hobby. Shows such as Jack Benny, Life of Riley, Our Miss Brooks, Phil Harris, Vic and Sade, and Fibber McGee are still very funny. Shows such as Johnny Dollar, Suspense, and Escape are still intriguing. OTR is perfect for anyone tired of the sex drenched, toilet humor of much of what comes out of Hollywood and cable today. Frankly, I hardly turn on my tv anymore - and I have no cable or satellite bills to pay.

Sooner or later, every OTR fan is going to want to have this book. It is an exhaustive reference on almost every show with great background stories to keep you entertained for weeks. It is expensive but it is the best.
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Format: Hardcover
From the A&P Gypsies to the Ziegfield Follies of the Air, the entire spectrum of radio in its heyday (1930's 40's, 50's) is all here, with as fabulous a cast of characters as were ever gathered into one industry.
The 1500 entries detail the broadcast history of each show (including dates, times, network, and sponsors), cast members major and minor, announcers, musicians and singers, producers and directors, sound effects technicians, and more.
Shows of special significance, such as "Gunsmoke" (1952-61) are treated in extensive essays describing their history and development, with background information derived from numerous interviews and meticulous research. There are also special categories, or "umbrella entries", covering concert, news, and religious shows, and the remote broadcasts of the great bands, such as Glenn Miller and Woody Herman. For hardcore radio buffs and collectors information on the availability of tapes of old shows will be a special treat. With its fine bibliography and generous index, Dunning's work is a first rate production, essential for anyone interested in old time radio.
(The "score" rating is an unfortunately ineradicable feature of the page. This reviewer does not "score" books.)
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