May 4, 2005
If you’re old enough to remember the phrase ‘‘Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear,’’ you may be surprised to learn that thanks to new technology, the Lone Ranger and other stars of classic radio are riding once again.
But these days, instead of gathering around the radio to enjoy Jack Benny, ‘‘The Shadow,’’ ‘‘Dragnet’’ and other programs from the golden age of radio, nostalgic listeners are downloading their favorite shows from the Internet to CDs, MP3 players and cell phones.
‘‘Research shows that the older generation is the fastestgrowing group of Internet users,’’ says Jeffery Dittus of Media Bay, a digital media and publishing company. ‘‘When they get online, not only are they rediscovering the shows of their childhood, they’re introducing this programming to their grandkids.’’
The era referred to as the golden age of radio spanned the years from 1935 to 1955. Programs such as ‘‘The Jack Benny Show’’ and ‘‘Fibber McGee & Molly’’ dominated the evening airwaves, while romantic serials — dubbed ‘‘soap operas’’ because of their laundry-products sponsors — entertained housewives during the day.
Media Bay, which holds a library of more than 50,000 hours of old-time radio programming — including ‘‘Gunsmoke’’ and ‘‘The Adventures of Superman’’ — has digitalized original tapes and improved their audio quality. It makes the old-fashioned content available to consumers in new formats through an online subscription service, www.radio classics.com.
The company recently signed an agreement with MSN Music to make 1,400 old-time radio shows available for download to handheld audio devices. Most shows, including dramas, mysteries, Westerns and comedies, run 30 minutes and cost $1.69 to download. While vintage productions featuring such stars as Gracie Allen, Jack Benny and Bob Hope are marketed alongside more contemporary entertainers as Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z and Linkin Park, the content and language are decades apart.
‘‘This is wholesome entertainment,’’ Dittus says. ‘‘Nothing offcolor, and no bad language.’’
The old episodes translate well to the new technology and are garnering an extensive fan base. Media Bay’s research shows that its Radio Classics channels consistently rank in the top one-third of satellite radio programming popularity.
‘‘Early radio was really the first mass-media programming,’’ Dittus says. ‘‘The production effects and writing created what was essentially a theater of the mind. Once you listen to this stuff, you get hooked.’’
And if the cell phone next to you suddenly asks the question, ‘‘Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?’’ (The Shadow knows) or announces ‘‘It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman,’’ instead of ringing, don’t be surprised. Media Bay has begun to make notable snippets and memorable quotes from its Classic Radio library available for ring tone distribution.