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Friday, June 23, 2006

Radio Waves

Those of a certain age may remember "The Breakfast Club", Don McNeill’s popular early morning radio program. It debuted the third week of June in 1933 and ran for 35 years. Perhaps most memorable to kids who listened was the “Call to Breakfast”, announced every 15 minutes. McNeill invited listeners to get up and march around the breakfast table. Thousands of kids took the command seriously and strutted around the dining room.

At one time, the show was carried on 400 affiliate stations and tickets were as difficult to get as those of the “Tonight Show” are today. The hour-long show featured performers such as Fran Allison of "Kukla, Fran and Ollie", but the most popular feature was “Memory Time”, when McNeill read listeners’ letters and poems.

By the time the show went off the air in 1968, it had become a bit dated, but other radio variety shows would take its place, notably Garrison Keillor’s "Prairie Home Companion" on National Public Radio affiliates. Keillor’s show has been broadcasting since 1974 and is so popular among its audience that it was recently made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.

Radio is changing, and what it will become is yet to be determined. Martha Stewart, Bob Dylan and NPR’s Bob Edwards are now on satellite radio, and formerly conventional radio stations have started offering Internet and digital high definition versions. But no matter how the shows reach listeners, there’s still an audience for radio. Check out:

Don McNeil and His Breakfast Club by John Doolittle (includes CD).

I Hid It Under the Sheets: Growing Up With Radio by Gerald Eskenazi.

And the Fans Roared: The Sports Broadcasts That Kept Us on the Edge of Our Seats by Joe Garner (includes two CDs narrated by Bob Costas).

Voices in the Purple Haze: Underground Radio and the Sixties by Michael Keith.

Sounds in the Air: The Golden Age of Radio by Norman Finkelstein.

A Prairie Home Commonplace Book: 25 Years on the Air With Garrison Keillor
edited by Marcia Pankake.

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