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Golden Age of Radio brings history and music to New York Mills

Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard brought the 1930's and 1940's radio era to hundreds of attendees at "The Golden Age of Radio" on September 25. The show was put on with the help of the Viking Library System, the Minnesota Historical Society, the NY Mills Public Library and Legacy Funding.

Imagine a world in which we are deprived of every-day distractions. Our televisions are shut off, our cellular phones are gone, and computers and the Internet don't even exist yet.

This was the world brought to attendees at the Golden Age of Radio, part of Minnesota's Greatest Generation Series.

The series is funded by Minnesota's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Viking Library System. The program is also run in partnership with the Minnesota Historical society.

Prudence Johnson's voice rang through the James Mann Auditorium at New York Mills School on Saturday, Sept 25. She was accompanied by musician Dan Chouinard's piano.

The Show

Prudence began speaking of the popularity of radio and its history as being a way to bring "sounds of the world into peoples' living rooms"

As images of an era long passed flashed across the screen, Prudence moved through two numbers before inviting the audience to sing along to "Singin' in the Rain", with lyrics to the song projected across the screen.

Over two-thirds of the 400 attendees were singing by the end of the number.

"We're off to a good start with the sing-along," she told the audience.

It didn't take the radio stations a long time to network via phone lines, and soon world events were being transmitted to people across the United States.

With the advent of microphones, singers like Crosby or Sinatra didn't need booming voices to sing over instruments.

Consumers began to request quality programming, and Broadway was brought to people who gathered around their radios for an evening together.

The screen ran images of local Minnesota bands of the era, such as "El Herbert and his Swing City Band".

As the Depression struck, images of men lined up for food and work were ironically standing in front of a billboard reading, "The Highest Standard of Living - The American Way".

The Dust Bowl coincided with the Depression era, and dust storms - from the removal of so much prairie grass - hit several times a day. Prudence sang, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh".

Historicity rang throughout the auditorium again as Prudence educated the audiences on some of the earliest radio stations - KSTP, WDGY, and WCCO. WDGY was the longest running Minnesota radio station.

Cedric Adams made his debut and readily became a hit to the American public. Airline pilots reported lights on the landscape would turn off their lights, nearly in unison, after Adams's show went off the air for the evening.

Towards the end of the 30's and early 40's, people began to hear of Stalin and Hitler across their radios. The 1941 announcement of Pearl Harbor and America's conviction of entering WWII rang in every living room,

World War II

In the battlefields of WWII, people were brought half a world away to the fighting. Likewise, soldiers were brought half a world away back home. It was transmitted to-and-from soldiers via the Armed Forces Radio Service.

Radio had also begun to be used as a propaganda machine.

Television and audiotape had begun the slow decline in radio listeners. Audiotape had taken a few years to hit the states, as it was an invention of the Germans, Chouinard pointed out.

Minnesota's "3M" company took over as suburbs began springing up, and a new era of a rising consumer market and newer vehicles hit the roadways of America.

A roaring standing ovation hit as Prudence ended her final song, and she thanked the Viking Library System, the Minnesota Historical Society, Julie Adams of the NY Mills Public Library, Minnesotans, and members of the audience.

It was a night to take a trip back in time, but a night to reflect that even today we still have a radio in our vehicles that some of us listen to on a day-to-day basis.