My Radio Days – 1930s-40s


By the time I was born in 1932, radio was available, but not to people like my family who had no money for frivolous things, sometimes barely enough for necessities like food.  My father was always fascinated with radio and by the time we had moved to a one room flat in 1935 and he had a job with the WPA, making enough to feed his family, he started building crystal sets.  As he progressed in the WPA, going from the lowliest laborer to time-keeper, we came up in the world and moved to a two-room flat and had a pretty nice radio.  I can remember one playing while we sat at the kitchen table in the morning.  I liked the jingle that four young guys sang (lyrics the way I remember them):

    Shine your shoes and you’ll wear a smile
    Shine your shoes and you’ll be in style
    The sun shines east and the sun shines west
    But Griffin polish shines the best.
    Some folks are not particular
    How they look around their feet,
    But if they wore shoes upon their heads,
    They’d make sure their shoes looked neat.
    So, keep your shoes shining all the time,
    All the time, it’s the time to shine
    When you hear this familiar chime (ding, dong, ding)
    It’s time to shine.

Forty years later, I found out it was the young Williams brothers singing the jingle, including the youngest, Andy Williams, who would become one of my favorite singers in the 1960s.

We listened to the Farm Hour, with reports on grain futures and cattle sales, along with weather reports.  The broadcast came from a model-farm type operation and they always talked to the farmer about what he was going to do that day on the farm and sometimes to his wife about her cooking and housekeeping tips.

My parents - 1940
My parents – 1940

Mother kept the radio on all day while she did her housework, favoring the country music of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family, Cowboy Copas, and Mac Wiseman, learning songs that she later sang to us.  The sadder the ballad, the better, as far as Mother was concerned.  She never complained, never cried, always had a pleasant smile on her face, but she loved the most doleful, tragic ballads where people died and roses twined around their tombstones.

Mother - 1945
Mother – 1945

My father liked sports broadcasts – baseball, football and the boxing matches.  I can still hear the tinny sound of the announcer from Madison Square Gardens in New York, announcing the name of Joe Louis and his unlucky opponent.  We all listened to the news broadcasts and shows like Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Lux Radio Theater.

Lillian and Shirley - 1940
Lillian and Shirley – 1940

Just before World War II, we could afford to move to a four-room apartment and my father managed to get a wonderful radio that had a green eye that vibrated and pulsed with each sound coming out of it.  The radio was glorious and my little sister and I loved to watch the magic eye do its gyrations.  It was on this radio that we heard the news on a wintry Sunday that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we were now in the middle of World War II.  Throughout the war and for several years afterwards, the radio continued to be the major form of information and entertainment in American homes.  Our family gathered in the living room around the radio, everybody doing something besides just listening – my parents reading, my sister and I lying on the floor with puzzles or coloring books or paper dolls.

On Saturday nights, we usually listened to a barn dance show, probably the precursor of Grand Ole Opry, and heard someone “calling Rattler from the barn – Huyh, Rattler, Huyh, Huyh” and some guy saying, “I’m going back to the wagon, folks – these shoes is killing me”.

Shirley and Lillian - 1943
Shirley and Lillian – 1943

I can remember sitting in the kitchen with the radio playing Fred Allen while we ate a supper of leftovers from a big Sunday dinner – fried chicken, potato pancakes made from the mashed potatoes, the remaining meringue-covered chocolate or coconut cream pie.

Of course, we loved The Shadow –  “Who knows what evil lurks in the thoughts of man — The Shadow knows!”; Bull Drummond; Your Hit Parade and the latest song by Frank Sinatra (a young, skinny kid at that time);  The Lone Ranger and Tonto; Little Orphan Annie and Jack Armstrong and so many others.  We always wound up each New Year’s Eve listening to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

Radio was so important to us until one day in 1946 when figures appeared on a tiny screen in my father’s workshop as he built our first television set and radio was never a very big deal again.

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Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

21 thoughts on “My Radio Days – 1930s-40s”

  1. What a great memory!! Love hearing how your dad built a TV set. My dad taught industrial arts to high school boys. I am convinced he could build just about anything. I loved watching the oscilloscope he had in the garage; and the “tube tester” he had also. My generation (from the 50’s) grew up with one black and white 12″ tv, with rabbit ears on top. Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wonderful world of Disney were the hits. Oh how my mother begged for a COLOR TV..and we would visit the neighbors house on New Years Day to watch the ROSE Parade in COLOR. Times changed, by high school, I had bought m own 14″ color TV and kept it in my bedroom. Johnny Carson was my favorite late at night when I should have been asleep!

  2. Wow, that is such a terrific post. I love the picture of you in 1934, as well as the rest. I remember some of that – we didn’t have a tv until probably 1954. I know we had it in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, because I’d come home at lunch to watch with my dad and not go back to school. LOL Before that, though, on Saturday mornings, I’d lie on top of Mama’s spinet piano and listen to the children’s shows – I remember Howdy Doody particularly – and I know we were still listening to the Shadow and Jack Benny. Good trip down memory lane.

  3. What a great recollection…So much history and so many changes in one lifetime…and now you’re a veteran blogger!
    Radio is still a big part of my life – don’t know how I’d get through a day without the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

  4. What a marvelous story teller you are, I enjoyed every word. We are close in age and,I remember a lot of the old radio shows. My sister and I listened to Lux Radio Theater on Monday nights into the 50s. I remember the war but not Pearl Harbor, but do remember air raid drills, blackouts, newspaper drives, flattening tin cans, and rationing stamps. Wish I had more memories of my mother but I was so young when she passed away, but all the things I do remember of her are wonderful. Your mothers sounds like she enjoyed life and loved to sing.

  5. I just boo-hooed through this whole thing. I remember my Nana (who was 30 years older than you) talking about old radio shows like Fibber McGee and others – also listening to that Barn Dance show you talked about. She listened to the radio (favoring George Strait) until the day she fell and passed away when she was 96. I listened to Jim Reeves, Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis during nap time at her house. Thank you so much for reminding me of such lovely times with my Nana – I sure miss her. By the way, what kind of uniforms were you and your sister wearing?

    1. Kelli – the uniforms were WAC uniforms from World War II. My grandma bought them for us and they drew attention whenever we wore them in that very patriotic era.

  6. I was little and remember my mom listening to stories as she called them on the radio. Then some of them went to TV at lunch time. She would make us tell her what time it was when she was working out side so she would not miss them. We would tell her where the big hand was and where the little hand was. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. My grandfather living next door to us listened to Sargeant Preston, The Lone Ranger, the farm news and the weather. At home on Saturday mornings I tuned in a children’s show that featured ‘Big John and Sparky.’ My Dad bought our first tv in time to watch the inaugural of President Eisenhower when I was in first grade.

  8. That was so special. And, you and your sister are adorable. I like the uniforms you had, too. I remember the big radio that stood in the old farmhouse. It didn’t work that I remember but my aunt told how they would sit around it and stare at it just like they did the tv later on. You take me back to stories I remember hearing. Fond memories. 🙂

  9. I greatly enjoyed reading this post. It’s so important to document your history and life like this. Thank you for sharing.. def puts a different perspective on life today.

  10. What a wonderful post! I have really enjoyed reading about your radio memories and seeing your lovely photos. Thanks Lillian.

  11. Love this post, Lillian! That first photo is wonderful, as well as the others. I love listening to stories like this… it brings back so many fond memories. I remember when my Dad bought our first real TV. It was a huge box and anytime we wanted to change the channel (there were only a handful) or change the volume, we’d have to get up and do it – no remote control back then! We also had a beautiful record player that was more like a piece of furniture. It sat in our living/dining room for many years and we listened to music for hours in the evenings. Those were times when most families spent a lot of time together. Dinner was at the same time for evereyone, and afterwards, we all sat together and listened to the radio, music, or TV shows that were clean and made with the whole family in mind.

  12. These trips down your memory lane are very entertaining & informative, Lillian …I love hearing about how things were in your early years. My DH was born in 26…he turned 88 today, as a matter of fact, so much of what you remember reflect on his childhood era as well.
    Thanks for sharing your fond memories!

    1. Retta, happy birthday to your husband. How wonderful to reach 88. I’ll bet he has some wonderful stories to tell.

  13. I was born in 1943 so I don’t have any recollection of WWII except when I started learning about it in school. I seemed so unreal what the Nazis did to the Jewish people. When a niece married a Jewish man, we talked to his relatives who had just escaped before it got really bad. My dad worked for Zenith in Chicago during the war and was exempt from going because he was older and was working in the radio industry to make short wave radios for the troops.

  14. My mom always sings this shoe polish song right through. She is 92 and has had dementia for about six years. I am glad I found your post. Thanks

  15. Alice, I’m 84 now, so we were children in the same era. It seems you never forget the songs you learned in childhood.

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