Nostalgia: Radio Days
By Dorothy Stanaitis
Our little Philadelphia row house was frequently noisy. It was the lively, happy noise of an active family but noisy, nevertheless. With four children, one baby, two cats and a dog, there was constant activity from breakfast to supper time. Most of these daily family activities were accompanied by the friendly hum of the radio in the background.
Our days started with Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club, and we never failed to join in his daily march around the breakfast table.
During the day, whenever one of us would run up or down the uncarpeted wooden staircase, the noisy clatter of the metal cleats on the heels of our shoes, which Daddy attached to reduce wear, added a snappy accompaniment to the songs that Mother enjoyed playing on our large Philco floor-model radio. One or two of us would usually be singing along, not only with the songs, but with the commercials, too. “Chiquita Banana” was a favorite, along with “Halo Shampoo” and “Rinso white, Rinso bright, happy little wash day song.”
All of the music stopped at mid-day, when Mother listened to her soap operas. Those 15-minute programs transported us to the worlds of “Helen Trent,” “Our Gal Sunday” and “Life Can Be Beautiful.”
Things also quieted down again in the late afternoon when we gathered around the radio, some on the sofa and some sprawled out on the floor, to listen to our own children’s serials. “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy” was one we never missed. We had begged our mother for Wheaties so we could send in the box tops and a dime for Jack Armstrong flashlights. Then, for the short time it took for the batteries to wear down, we abandoned our playmates to stay indoors and lurk behind the furnace in our dark basement flashing secret code messages to one another.
But as devoted as we were to our weekday serials, our very favorite program was the Saturday morning special, “Let’s Pretend” with Gene London, Nila Mack and the Pretenders performing breathtaking renditions of classic fairy tales. Through the magic of radio, I could picture every scene and see every character. We never made a sound until their final word was spoken.
In the evening, after all the children had their baths and were tucked in for the night, our parents would be just as quiet as they listened to their own favorite radio programs. I knew this first-hand, since I would often creep out of bed carrying my quilt into the hall where I would make a nest at the top of the stairs and secretly listen to those programs, too. My favorite was “Lux Radio Theater,” a thrilling combination of well-known movie stars and wonderful radio dramas.
A few years later, after the Philco was replaced by a large piece of entertainment furniture holding a radio, phonograph and 10-inch, black and white television set, I was allowed to stay up a little later than my younger siblings and could legitimately watch some of my parents’ shows. I marveled at the pleasure of having “movies” right in my own living room. Looking back, I now realize that nothing rivaled the thrill of disembodied voices bringing entertainment, enrichment and delight to a little girl through the “magic” of radio.
Dorothy Stanaitis, a certified Philadelphia Tour Guide, writes about history and culture.