Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear . . .

Bob McKee

Kids, once upon a time long ago and in a land far away, there were no X-Boxes, no iPads, no smart phones, no computers and only primitive television still in its infancy and largely unavailable to the masses. I know, hard to believe but it’s true. And not one single game we played required batteries.

Any visual entertainment was live and in real time. It might have included such events as football, basketball and baseball games (no instant replays, no commercial breaks). In this ancient time, entertainment also included live events like the Shrine Circus, an occasional carnival on just about any available vacant lot, the Ozark Empire Fair, country music shows at the Gilloz Theater, band concerts and watching the neighbors fight.

The only contrived and made up visual entertainment available to kids in this historic period was provided on Saturday mornings, if you had the twenty-five cent admission fee, and was projected from film onto a silver screen at one of the three downtown theaters within walking distance of the neighborhood.

And there was reading. Yes kids, people back then actually read for entertainment and pleasure, not just because it was a class assignment. There was reading to learn something and there was reading to escape the drab reality of the 1950s in Springfield, Mo., or anywhere for that matter.

That’s all fine and good, you say, but there wasn’t a ball game, circus or fair everyday, and reading gets boring after awhile, so what did you really do for entertainment on a daily basis in “your day?”

Well, kids, almost every household in the middle of the last century had this fancy piece of furniture, usually referred to as a cabinet, in the living room. It was filled with things called vacuum tubes that lit up after a proper warm-up period. There were two knobs on the front of the cabinet, a dial with numbers that also lit up, and a small speaker protected by a piece of cloth that looked like carpet material. It was called a radio, or more commonly, the radio, as in “turn on the radio,” or “change stations on the radio,” and “turn the damn radio down.”

Radio was the entertainment of the day. It required imagination because there was no video, only audio. There were sound effects, gunshots, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, doors slamming, tires squealing, airplane engines screaming, to help your mind form an image if you were imagination challenged. With a well-tuned imagination, you could see Tonto ride over the ridge to find the outlaw camp for the Lone Ranger; see Roy Rogers shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand; picture in your mind Sky King’s airplane, Songbird, rolling down the runway at the Flying Crown Ranch; hear the wind rushing past Superman’s cape. You could even feel the chill as a blizzard howled in an episode of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

After school, radio belonged to us kids. Besides the shows listed above, there were non-visual performances of The Green Hornet, Buck Rogers, The Cisco Kid, Tarzan, Red Ryder and The Shadow. Evening radio brought broadcasts aimed at adults but usually enjoyed by kids as well: Ozzie and Harriet, Amos ‘n’ Andy (my grandfather’s favorite), Gunsmoke (his second favorite), Arthur Godfrey, The Bing Crosby Show, The Bob Hope Show, Dragnet, Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthey, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Lum and Abner, Milton Berle, Gang Busters and Our Miss Brooks.

But as a bonus, the kids shows in the afternoon offered exciting premiums and prizes that could not be ignored. For 15 cents and the inner seal from a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter, you could get a Sky King Signal Scope that let you see around corners. Two Quaker Puffed Wheat or Puffed Rice box tops got you a Dick Tracy Secret Service Patrol membership that included a code book, pledge form and a badge. A Wheaties box top and a dime rewarded The Shadow listeners with a secret code ring that glowed in the dark (probably made of radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project). 

The thing was that all those wonderful offers, a pen that wrote in invisible ink, a special pair of glasses to see what’s written in invisible ink, miniature spy glass, compass and signal mirror, all required 10 days to two weeks to deliver. That’s a long time for a kid and I remember coming home from school everyday for weeks asking my mother if my ring with the secret compartment  had been in the mail that day.

A lot of the old radio programs successfully made the transition to television in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some were even as good as our imaginations had made them. Most weren’t.

“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver, The Lone Ranger Rides Again.”