Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The End of Radio's Golden Age
Wednesday/December/30 2009 Filed in: Entertainment / Media
The Golden Age of Radio died on September 30, 1962
Commercial radio was born on November 2, 1920. Several months before, amateur radio operator Dr. Frank Conrad was approached by leading radio manufacturer, Westinghouse, with the idea of setting up a radio transmitting operation in Pittsburgh that would later become KDKA.
On November 2, KDKA broadcast the news that Warren G. Harding had won the race against James Cox for the US presidency.
The birth of the radio spot
Two years later, a New York real estate developer paid to advertise his services on the radio. The new medium had found its revenue stream.
The world's four decade long love affair with radio
For the next 42 years, the world enjoyed a passionate love affair with radio. Families huddled in darkened living rooms listening to drama, comedy and news with only their imaginations to fill the spaces between the spoken words and static.
All that came to an end the evening of September 30, 1962. The world had been lured away from radio by a younger, more exciting lover. Those darkened living rooms were now lit with the cathode-ray flickering of television.
On the night of September 30, those few people still listening to radio heard The Tip-Off Matter, the final installment of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a radio series with a 13 year run.
The Bogart-like lead character was Johnny Dollar, a freelance insurance investigator with an action-packed expense account.
Most episodes began with Johnny taking a phone call requesting him to investigate a high profile insurance claim. After a few moments of hesitation, Johnny, imagining the beautiful women in the exotic locale he was beckoned to, would agree to take the assignment.
Johnny's expense account was the spine of the adventure as he chronicled the cost of cab rides and booze to ply necessary information from the crimson lips of some femme fatale.
Over the course of the series run, eight actors played the role but most old-time-radio fans agree that Bob Bailey was to Johnny Dollar what Sean Connery was to James Bond.
Something in Bailey's voice and the way he portrayed the cool demeanor of Johnny Dollar made the character his alone.
As good as Bailey was, he didn't make it to the end of the run. When production of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar moved from California to New York in 1960, Bailey decided to stay where he was.
Two years later, with Mandel Kramer in the title role, Johnny Dollar completed his final investigation.
By the end of that evening, commercial radio, as listeners had known it for over 40 years, ceased to exist. After September 30, 1962, dramas, comedies, variety programs and quiz shows faded from the airwaves.
The medium became the home of Top 40 music, 24-hour news and controversial talk.
Radio lived on but its Golden Age was over.
You can listen to nearly 500 installments of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on the excellent old time radio site: OTR.net.