Copyright 2017 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Mario V. Farina
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Radio began having a huge influence on my life at an early age. I listened to WGY, the General Electric Station in Schenectady. There were no other stations serving the area at the time. The letters WGY stood for “(W), Wireless,” “(G), General Electric,” and “(Y), Schenectady’s last letter.” This station was a pioneer in radio broadcasting having started on February 20, 1922. (I had been born in Schenectady in 1923.) Kolin Hager was at the mike. The program aired for about an hour. Music was provided by Gordie Randall and his orchestra.
Television would not be available for the home for, at least, fifteen years. It may have been during 1934, at age 9 or 10 when I began to pay attention to radio. Our set was on a small table in the dining room of our home. I remember walking home from school to get lunch and listen. The weather report was important. My mother would pay close attention to this. Next was the stock market report. An announcer would read stock quotes for perhaps as long as fifteen minutes. This was probably being done in response to the crash that had occurred in 1929. I waited for news about Europe. War clouds were brewing in Europe. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were causing a great deal of worry with their ambitions. In school we had learned about the war of 1914. I feared a repetition.
As the years passed, I began to find more interests in radio. Around age 15, I began listening to radio shows made especially for young listeners. Among these were “Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, and The adventures of Tom Mix. Jack Armstrong was a high school student who got involved in many dangerous adventures. Because of his leadership, intelligence, and strength, he and his buddies were able to come through unscathed. This show was sponsored by Wheaties, “The Breakfast of Champions.”
The program began with a theme song beginning with:
Wave the flag for Hudson High boys,
Show them how we stand.
Ever shall our team be champions,
known throughout the land.
The Tom Mix show related many fictional tales that Tom Mix, a well-known real cowboy, had become involved in. He was also a popular movie star. In the show, Tom was always brave, reliable, and resourceful as he solved many a problem or helped others escape dreadful hazards. The program was sponsored by Ralston Purina.
It must be restated at this point that these shows were not TV programs. TV would not be ready for the public until several years into the future. The shows featured actors who could only be heard, not seen. The speakers had distinctive voices so that listeners could distinguish one person from another. The stories were developed by actors speaking to each other. A moderator would sometimes add details. There were sound affects to help dramatize the stories. Somehow, listeners could follow the tales and be as entertained as TV allows today.
Baseball games were described on radio as the games were being played. Sports announcers would tell who was at bat, what the results were of the balls being pictured. If there was a hit the announcer would excitedly tell what was happening as it happened. With good sports announcers, it was easy to follow the progress of baseball games this way. Football games were described in the same manner.
I discovered a show I liked very much. This was called “The Shadow.” The Shadow was a hero who fought for justice. He was difficult to see while doing his work since he wore a black hat and cape. He was also able to, somehow, cloud the mind of villains. He seemed to know where and when a crime was being committed and would appear to help the person or persons who were in trouble. In the Shadow’s “real life,” the Shadow was really Lamont Cranston, “Man About Town.” No one knew who the Shadow really was except Margo Lane, who, apparently, was his sweetheart.
At the start of the show, the creepy voice of The Shadow could be heard sombering uttering, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! Then he would laugh in an eerie manner. The announcer for this show was John Barclay. It was sponsored by Blue Coal. For a period of time, Orson Wells, a well-known actor played The Shadow.
The show was popular. There was a magazine called The Shadow which was published monthly and cost ten cents. I would purchase a copy at the news stand as soon as it became available.
In the evening and on weekends, there would be many shows that featured well-known performers in the fields of music and comedy. Some well-known singers were Lanny Ross, Rudy Valee, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Al Jolson, and others. Several comedians were Eddy Canter, Ed Wynn, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Jonathan Winters, Victor Borge, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice, George Burns, Jimmy Durante, Phil Silvers, Red Skelton, Mae West, W. C. Fields, and Bert Lahr. There were many more.
Another of my favorite shows was “Lights Out Everybody.” This was presented at midnight and aired for an hour. I didn’t have a radio near my bed at the time, but I made a very simple crystal set and used it in bed. I made the earphones from an old discarded telephone receiver. The stories were very spooky, but they didn’t bother me a great deal. I was able to sleep well after the shows.
In my early teens, I would often visit the WGY studios to watch radio programs being broadcast. These featured the music of Gordie Randall. In my later teens, I began making radios from radio parts I purchased at Schwartz Radio Store located on Broadway in Schenectady. I used very simple wiring diagrams found in radio magazines. I’d wire, on a breadboard, the vacuum tubes, condensers, rheostats, resistors, speakers, batteries, and tuners that made the radios work. (There were no transistors in those days.) When I was satisfied that a radio worked, I’d install it neatly in a metal case.
I learned the Morse Code and made a telegraph key so that I could practice the code.
In the Signal Corps of the U. S. Army during World War II, I served as a radio operator in Kwaiyang China. After the war, I became an amateur radio operator (Ham) operating my own radio station, W2ZOV. At one time I operated on two meters communicating with other radio operators as we traveled to work. I made some of my equipment using kits from Heathkit.
In 1959, I became a computer pioneer for General Electric. My fascination with radio ended, but a new one with computers began. It never ended. Though I retired from full time employment in 2013, I now spend almost all my waking hours at the computer writing stories for www.Shakespir.com.