Radio Days: 1920-1960

Following WW1, there was a boom in affordable radios. Very soon, almost every home in developed countries owned a radio, and it was normal for families to sit around listening to their favourite programmes or news, just as they do now with televisions.

Younger readers under a ‘certain age’ might find this amusing to see, but until televisions became widely available in the 1960s, this was what passed as entertainment for most families. Performers on the radio were real stars and celebrities, no less so than the most famous TV stars of modern times. Advertising was common on some radio stations too, with whole shows sponsored by a particular brand.

Sports fans would listen to live events, and tune in for the results of the leagues and teams. Once pop music became increasingly popular, smaller radios powered by batteries and using transistors instead of valves were sold as ‘Portable Radios’ that could be taken anywhere outside the home. With the facility to combine record players and radios in one unit, ‘Radiograms’ were also sold in large numbers.

These stylish young women from the 1920s are enjoying some contemporary music.

Listening alone, and adjusting the volume.

Children using headphones. Not all radios had speakers at the time.

Getting ready to listen to their favourite show as dad tunes into the right station.

The whole family sitting close to the radio so they don’t miss anything.

A young girl delighted to be able to hear her radio.

A rural family gather round to enjoy a programme.

During WW2, this family are listening to war news while keeping their gas masks handy.

This nurse is listening to some music during her break at the hospital.

The baby twins hear their first sounds on the family radio.

This lady has brought her reel-to-reel tape recorder close to the radio so she can tape the music.

A young woman next to her radiogram.

Freedom to listen outside, on a trip to the country with her transistor radio.

46 thoughts on “Radio Days: 1920-1960

  1. (1) One year, I wrote the newscast for my private college’s radio station, and delivered the news a few times when the broadcaster was ill or unavailable. As a member of Phi Sigma Iota, I was once interviewed by a Kansas City radio station. And years later, I was a guest on the Bad Music Hour, as I brought into the university’s radio station a signed vinyl record featuring the singing voice of Donna Douglas (Elly May Clampett of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame). (Note: Donna’s songs were actually pretty good.)
    (2) When I was young, I’d listen to the radio in bed on New Year’s Eve. The radio station played the top 100 songs of the year. Of course, I eagerly anticipated the top 40. Back then, even the less popular songs were far superior to anything being put out today.
    (3) I rarely listen to the radio these days. I have no patience for the endless commercials on AM stations. The National Public Radio (NPR) FM station is usually busy with pledge drives, or else playing politically biased talk. Its sister station plays obscure “classical” music. And some of the other radio stations are for non-English speakers.
    (4) There was a time when I was able to listen to old recordings of James Stewart’s “The Six Shooter” on the radio. I wish some of the old programs like that would return. Or at least give me some “oldies but goodies” music to tickle my ears.

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  2. I loved listening to sporting events on the radio when I was a kid before everything was on television. I enjoyed imagining the images in my head while listening to the radio.

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  3. I remember when I begged for and received at Christmas a hand-held transistor radio. (I was in fourth grade.) It was a HUGE deal, even though it probably got only one or two stations because of the mountains where we lived.

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  4. I do love the radio, and I hope it is alive and well for a long time. And I enjoy volunteering at a local radio station so much! It’s a wonderful way to learn new things, meet people, and know what is really going on. I feel much more connected now, and I am definitely better informed at a local level than I ever was when I lived here before. Thanks for those fabulous images, Pete.

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          1. Another radical brother skulking all innocent looking around in our WP family… Sometimes I think we’re very quietly composed of practically nothing but!

            Did you wear your hair in a duck tail too, you bad boy?

            Liked by 1 person

  5. My parents always referred to it as the wireless. It was a big feature of the home mostly for news, cricket and the weather. Sometimes music, as approved by father. Brother listened to Journey into Space and I had Listen with Mother. Dad went off to Cambodia 6 months before Mum and I and he sent back a list of items we must bring with us. I remember my mum purchasing a Pye radio in cream and red bakelite . Much time was spent twiddling with the dials to tune in the Beeb. When we came back to England in ’62 I was given a tiny transistor that I could listen to in my room. I loved it. These pictures are great and show how far we have come. I like picture 6y of the young girl…in the right top is the bottom of a budgie cage.

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  6. The radio….my youth before TV I listen to The Shadow and Inner Sanctum…..then when we lived in Spain we had a Phillips and I listen to the whole of Europe it was very memorable. chuq

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    1. I enjoyed the Ovaltineys. I still remember their song!

      We had a TV in 1953, when I was one year old. I remember watching it a few years later, sitting on the floor. My favourites were The Woodentops, Andy Pandy, and other puppet shows.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. NZ the land of firsts, but not for TV. It wasn’t introduced into NZ till after 1960. Successive govts were opposed. By the time the sets went on sale, many technicians were needed to install them = they came out from England, hundreds of them. And of course their vacancies were scattered throughout the land. So today you often meet the TV children.
        So radio was huge here. I remember sitting up all night to hear the All Blacks at Twickers.

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  7. I think one aspect of radio, and music generally, listening which might help to explain today’s shorter attention span is that we had to use our imagination, whereas with television, the images are there for us, so it’s a very passive activity. I still listen to the radio a lot. Cheers, Jon.

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  8. We had a radiogram, it was massive. And I remember when it was really cool to go around with a ‘tranny’ (transistor radio, I hasten to add) clamped to your ear

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    1. When we got a modern TV, (12-inch screen) I was allowed to take the old valve radio into my bedroom to listen to music. Later on I got a transistor radio as a Christmas present so I could listen to Radio Luxembourg when I was lying in bed. It had a tiny earpiece that connected with a cable.
      My dad bought a huge radiogram in 1968, he was so proud of it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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