Why is radio history important? It matters to me because my parents helped make it. It also matters to everyone else. History shows us, just because a medium is superseded by something newer, it never seems to go away. Many felt television spelled death for the motion picture industry. TV was predicted to do away with radio, but all three media modes survive today, each doing what that medium does best.
My research into my parents’ history benefited from their good writing habits of documenting everything they did and telling good stories about their adventures. My mother prepared for her working career with a creative writing course at the University of Chicago taught by renowned author and playwright Thornton Wilder. Advising her before she attempted to debut as an author, he said he pictured her pushing a baby carriage. Whether Wilder, a confirmed bachelor was misogynistic, or just wise, believing she would eventually write better after first getting some real-life experience, we will never know. Despite this she worked as a press agent, earning her own money and getting bylines in the Chicago press before she met my father and settled down to raise a family.
Ben and Alice make radio history
My dad eased into radio through similar publicity work. He got a job working for a neighborhood paper and ended up running it. He soon earned monikers as “the little dynamo” and the “Napoleon of the Northwest News.” Through friends, his skills were next called for in helping to launch a new business called Plan for Hospital Care, which he believed in because it was a way to help people pay for unexpected hospital bills. Little did he realize he would become a founding member of today’s vast healthcare insurance industry. From there he branched into radio production and became an advertising man with the H.W Kastor agency. Although he was a master at selling radio time, he quickly learned that clients unaccustomed to radio broadcasting needed plenty of guidance and support in order to create interesting content for the quarter hour, half-hour or longer segments they purchased. An interesting curiosity about radio history is that Ben and other advertising practitioners often doubled as producers of the dramatic and entertainment content of these programs. This Golden Age of Radio, lasted from the 1920s until about 1950. Then radio broadcasting originated in Chicago, long before the television age when New York began to dominate the broadcast media.
Radio befriends, rallies the home front
World War II was a tipping point for social change in America. With their men at war, nineteen million women joined the work force. Radio, the first instantaneous mass medium, provided daytime serial drama, entertainment and news, including pronouncements of world leaders and terrifying war reports, as President Roosevelt used the new medium to rally the nation to arms and win the war.
As World War II dragged into late 1943, even older men in their thirties became eligible because of the expansion of war into the Pacific. My dad Ben Green, like many other men of that era, wanted to demonstrate his patriotism. Facing the draft, Dad enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to gain some control over his military fate. He soon learned that the officers slot he had been promised evaporated when he passed his 36th birthday during his basic training at Camp Pendleton, California When the training company just before his was sent to Iwo Jima, where some 300 percent replacement troops were required, Ben was relieved to be able to say, “I’m glad I missed out on that one.” Shipped with his buddies on a 43-day voyage to further training on the island of Guam in the Marianas, he was faced with becoming a combat radio man or worse in the infantry. He then got busy trying to get a transfer and discovered there was a role for him in broadcasting at Armed Forces Radio Station WXLI—Guam. Dad’s ten minutes of fame occurred on August 14, 1945, when under Ben’s direction, one of his associated announcers, he and Webley Edwards scooped the first news to the world of Japan’s acceptance of Truman’s harsh surrender terms.
A new producer of radio history
I am currently working with audio producer and actor Fred Nelson, who is creating an audio podcast series, The Golden Quonset Hut, a radio history up to the present day of what became a successful modern-day commercial radio station, starting out from the humble Quonset hut headquarters of WXLI—Guam’s World War II outpost.
The Golden Years of Radio
You can read all about my family’s unique role in radio history of in a book my mother began, and I finished: Radio: One Woman’s Family In War and Pieces. Alice Green’s recently found eyewitness accounts of her childhood, her own war, the Golden Years of Radio and the postwar housing shortage reveal the light-hearted viewpoint of a shy, youngest child, who learns she can make even the stormy and outrageous characters in her own family laugh. With a little help from her son, who (just barely) escaped the madhouse, her story lauds the millions of of women who, like Alice, were unsung American heroes. It is available on Kindle Select from Amazon.com and in trade paperback form on Barnes & Noble or ordered through your favorite local bookstore.
Until next time, good words to you,