On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio


Now long out of print, John Dunning's Tune in Yesterday was the definitive one-volume reference on old-time radio broadcasting. Now, in On the Air, Dunning has completely rethought this classic work, reorganizing the material and doubling its coverage, to provide a richer and more informative account of radio's golden age. Here are some 1,500 radio shows presented in alphabetical order. The great programs of the '30s, '40s, and '50s are all here--Amos 'n' Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, and The March of Time, to name only a few. For each, Dunning provides a complete broadcast history, with the timeslot, the network, and the name of the show's advertisers. He also lists major cast members, announcers, producers, directors, writers, and sound effects people--even the show's theme song. There are also umbrella entries, such as "News Broadcasts," which features an engaging essay on radio news, with capsule biographies of major broadcasters, such as Lowell Thomas and Edward R. Murrow. Equally important, Dunning provides a fascinating account of each program, taking us behind the scenes to capture the feel of the performance, such as the ghastly sounds of Lights Out (a horror drama where heads rolled and bones crunched), and providing engrossing biographies of the main people involved in the show. A wonderful read for everyone who loves old-time radio, On the Air is a must purchase for all radio hobbyists and anyone interested in 20th-century American history. It is an essential reference work for libraries and radio stations.


Twenty years have passed since the original edition of Tune In Yesterday appeared in bookstores. It was subtitled The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, its author slightly uncomfortable in such a huge hat. We are older now and hopefully wiser. We know that books are seldom, if ever, ultimate. And in radio history, the information that has come to light since the first edition appeared has some of the characteristics of a major flood.

The book quickly became the standard reference work. Frank Buxton and Bill Owen had compiled an earlier encyclopedia, The Big Broadcast. Vincent Terrace produced a later one, Radio's Golden Years. But Tune In Yesterday-- possibly because it dealt with behind-the-mike folklore in addition to facts and dates--became one of the most-sought out-of-print books in America. Collectors routinely pay $150 to $200 for a copy, a gratifying experience to its slightly bewildered author.

But these books all failed the tests of comprehensiveness and accuracy. The Big Broadcast had been criticized by buffs for a few glaring errors, but Buxton and Owen went where none had gone before, and their book remains a valued reference tool. Terrace was more widely denounced. His book seemed a poor man's copy of The Big Broadcast, the mistakes compounded and enlarged. But Terrace too had his contributions: in his pages a reader will find dozens of arcane tidbits, intriguing facts that appear nowhere else.

Between Buxton and Terrace was my book, Tune In Yesterday. This was judged far less critically than either Buxton or Terrace. People were generally so delighted to have access to the material that they gladly overlooked the book's many problems. There were, of course, exceptions: a few reviewers pointed out errors; some wondered how an encyclopedia could neglect such important milestones as the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts; and the author still remembers a strong letter from radio actress Alice Reinheart, taking him to task for what then seemed like a Sears catalogue of mistakes. But the reaction from the sadly diminishing community of radio pioneers was positive; even when they had bones to pick, the people who worked in network radio seemed . . .

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