*line from “On the Radio” by American singer/songwriter Donna Summer, “Queen of Disco”, written for the soundtrack to the film Foxes (1980).
From: Chapter XI – June, One Summer – America 1927 (2013), by Bill Bryson:
“…It takes some effort of imagination to appreciate how novel radio was in the 1920s. It was the wonder of the age. By the time of Lindbergh’s flight, one third of all the money America spent on furniture was spent on radios. Stations sprouted everywhere…
…on the whole people were enchanted. The ability to sit in one’s own living room and listen to a live event in some distant place was approximately as miraculous as teleportation. When an advertiser wrote, “Radio Leaps the Barriers of Time and Distance!” it was as much an expression of wonder as of fact…”
Vincent Canby (1924-2000) was an enthusiastic supporter of only specific styles of filmmakers; notably Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Jane Campion, Mike Leigh, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, James Ivory and Woody Allen, who credited Canby’s rave review of “Take the Money and Run” as a crucial point in his career. Canby wrote in his New York Times film review of 30.1.87:
“RADIOS once came in two basic models of wooden cabinets. The table-top, sheathed in oak or mahogany veneer, looked like a small, peak-roofed sentry box, with Romanesque or Gothic arches in front of the sometimes gold-flecked fabric masking the speaker.
The table-top radio added a certain tone to any suite of living-room furniture, though certainly not as much as the majestic console, the big, heavy floor-model that was a prized piece of furniture in its own right.
For most of us who were born before World War II – or even during the war’s early days – it’s sometimes difficult to realize that these extraordinary objects are now antiques, and that the material that poured from their speakers constituted a singular, if short-lived, popular art. We didn’t have to look at the radio – though we always did – to be swept up by the voice of the unknown diva on ”The Major Bowes Amateur Hour,” the awful dooms facing ”Little Orphan Annie,” the arcane knowledge possessed by contestants on ”Name That Tune,” the adventures of ”The Lone Ranger,” or the gaiety of the annual New Year’s Eve festivities at the Roosevelt Hotel, presided over by Guy Lombardo. We didn’t see a wooden cabinet, often scratched and scuffed, its speaker-fabric punctured by children who’d wanted to discover what was going on inside.
Instead we saw a limitless universe, created entirely out of voices, music and sound effects that liberated each mind in direct relation to the quality of its imagination. When Uncle Bob (or Ted or Ray) promised to send a shooting star over the house to mark a young listener’s birthday, the young listener, who had hung out the window for an hour without seeing the star, questioned not Uncle Bob (or Ted or Ray), but his own eyesight.
What’s sometimes referred to as the golden age of radio – roughly from the mid-30’s through the mid-40’s – holds a privileged position in the memories of most of us who grew up with it. Radio wasn’t outside our lives. It coincided with – and helped to shape – our childhood and adolescence. As we slogged toward maturity, it also grew up and turned into television, leaving behind, like dead skin, transistorized talk-radio and nonstop music shows.
It’s this brief and, in hindsight, enchanted period that Woody Allen remembers in his most buoyant, comic and poignantly expressed of memoirs, titled, with his unflagging, poetic exactitude, ”Radio Days.”…”