There was a loud squeak in the screen door as I let the dogs out this morning. It was more a grinding of metal against metal in a harsh and wavering scraping. It reminded me of an old radio show from tender years of long ago. Our evenings were taken up by the large wooden box lighted by a bar of glass covering a strip of paper marked off with vertical lines. Each line had a number in the middle and there was an orange bar which was moved back and forth by means of a big round wooden knob to the right of the glass. We called this the tuner. We tuned into the various stations which offered us music, plays and commercials. The knob to the left controlled the volume. Below that was a decoration carved into the face of the box which enclosed a large speaker. It was a nice piece of furniture, the only level surface not cluttered by odds and ends tossed atop it.
The afternoons would find us sitting in front of this 'nice piece of furniture" to listen to the entertainment offered through the tuner. Our minds were engaged by voices playing rolls in half hour plays. The Shadow, Gangbusters, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Tarzan, Superman filled the air during those evenings. Our sightless eyes gazed spellbound at the light of the tuner while in our minds came images produced by the words and sound effects emanating from that box.
I think these "plays of the mind" engaged us more fully than passively watching a moving picture accompanied by sound.
When the Shadow laughed maniacally, we were there in the room with the poor sap who had commited the crime. Our mind fleshed out the words creating images behind our eyes. We were a part of the creative process. In the middle of Gangbusters we'd duck when the rat-a-tat-tat of tommie guns filled the air. We would grab a vine and swing through the trees aa hearts raced to the call of the ape man. We were more closely attuned to the perils of our heroes. Those voices produced worlds in our minds. It's a similar thing to reading a book. We were lost in another world carried to us through sound. Our minds created the "visual" aspects to complete the tales. We happily gave in to the entertainments offered.
It seems funny now to picture a family sitting in front of a bit of furniture staring at its facade. Those glazed eyes might have seemed vacant but behind them was the magic of endless worlds brought to life through that modern age miracle. I still remember the image produced when Fibber would go to his closet while all the characters yelled "No! Not the closet!" The door would creak and out would come its contents tumbling, crashing for close to a minute. We sat anticipating this moment each week and we were gratified when every item packed into that confined space poured out into the room. We would laugh hysterically each time. Well, perhaps I laughed hysterically each time. That was a gag a kid would find extremely funny. I was always too caught up in that laughter to check out my parent's reaction.
When Jack Benny went to his vault to get a couple of bucks for gas it became a journey of sound effects. Creaking stairs, creaking doors, creaking floor boards, the water splash of the moat, and the opening of the huge iron door lead him to the desk of the grey haired old man who was in charge of the vault. "Halt! Who goes there!" he'd exclaim.
"it's me, Jack Benny," came the answer.
"It's me! Your boss, Jack Benny."
"Oh yeah? What's the pass word?"
"Don't be silly. I don't need the pass word. I'm your boss."
"How do I know it's really you? I haven't seen anyone down her in a long time."
"I come down here all the time. You know me."
"OK. When's the last time you came down?"
"Hmmm. Who was president? Umm, I think Roosevelt was voted in."
"What? Hoover isn't president anymore? What year is it?"
"1952. You know that."
"1952? I missed Christmas again?"
"Not really. Don't you remember last year when I brought you that slice of fruitcake?"
"Oh yeah. Hello Mr. Benny."
And on it would go. The routines were repetitive but awaited each week. We were easily amused in those days. The humour was clean with risque moments that children would not catch.
A creaking door brought these old memories tumbling out like the contents of Fibber's closet. It was a simpler time. Even the commercials were slipped into the content of the show without such interruption as we see today.
These old shows are availble free online these days. I'm sure it's the older generation that listens to them with real appreciation. I wonder if the younger generation would feel the same magic that we did. Some how I don't think so. That magic was real to our generation.