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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.