The Podcast of the Past: Create Your Own Old-Timey Radio Show!

More than 900,000 podcast shows are currently running, a number that continues to climb. Why are they so popular, especially among younger consumers? Just as important, how did they come to be?

It’s interesting to think that this seemingly new phenomenon is actually one of our older forms of entertainment. Just like podcasts, radio shows of the 1920s-1940s appealed to an array of listeners and spanned genres. In fact, many of our TV genres came from radio. People listened to sports broadcasts, news, cooking shows, competitions, and variety spots, backed by live musicians. Fictional programs were also common, with westerns, mysteries, soap operas, comedies, and kids’ shows. Listen to the first radio episode of the Adventures of Superman:

This 1938 short film shows the making of a radio western:

As you can see here, sound effects were an important part of radio production. You might also remember this scene from the 1982 film version of Annie:

This article provides a good overview of the process of creating sound effects, not with a computer, but with common household objects.

Listen to the introduction to The Adventure of Sam Spade (1948):

Note how the advertiser is mentioned several times within the introduction. Now listen to the set up. How does the music set the tone? How do the characters set up the story? Can you picture the characters? How do they establish the scene without visuals? What sound effects do you hear?

Creating your own radio show
First, figure out what kind of show would you like to make. A western, like the first video? Variety show? A mystery? Once you’ve determined the genre, start planning out your specifics. How many people or characters will you have? Describe the people involved and the setting for your show. Remember, you don’t need costumes or sets, but you should be able to paint a picture for your audience using descriptive language.

Plan out the story. If it’s a variety show, who will host? What will your acts be? For fiction, who is the main character? Other characters? Villain? What will happen in your story? When? Have a script or clear plan for your show and create a fitting title.

Next, think of the extras. Which parts of your show could use sound effects? Identify the sound and then the household object you could use (ask your parents first). For example, rice poured into a bowl can sound like rain. Find shoes with hard bottoms to exaggerate footsteps. Gather your items and plan out when they will be used.

Finally, figure out a fake sponsor of your show–any product will do, but it’s even better if it ties into the theme and/or audience of your show. Listen to the incorporation of Ovaltine into this original 1936 Little Orphan Annie broadcast. Use a similar pairing for your show.

Once you’ve planned out your show and its sponsorship, rehearse your show several times through before you perform or film it. Everyone involved should know what to do and when, including the sound effects.

When you are ready, either perform your show live or have someone film it (share on Facebook, if you’d like). Have fun! You could even do a podcast in which you reflect on the experience.