In 1948, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a survey that the Second District PTA made at Sunnyside School to find out about when and how students were listening to the radio — the “wireless” entertainment of the day. The reporter noted that the Sunnyside student body then represented families who were “neither overly rich nor overly poor … a most ideal medium between the two.”
The survey asked about 220 students in grades three through six about how many radios they had, when and what they listened to, and what their favorite programs were.
One of the points the reporter harped on was the use of of the radio during studying. Making it sound slightly shocking, he lauded the PTA for revealing this possibly harmful practice as “something that must give educators a morning-after-sized headache.” (Hardly an apposite metaphor to use for supposedly responsible adults!)
A Radio in Every Home
All the students had a radio in their homes, and many had their own. Some figures from the survey:
- Two thirds of the students had two or more radios in the home.
- One third had three or more.
- Over half of the students had their own radio.
- Three students claimed to have seven radios at home!
Top favorite programs featured “Sam Spade” and “The Aldrich Family.” These programs came on after 9:30 pm at night on school nights, surprisingly.
Other children’s favorites included “A Date with Judy,” “Smilin’ Ed,” “Let’s Pretend,” and “Land of the Lost.”
Constant Companion–with Advertising
The question about when the students listened revealed that just over half tuned in before school — which the reporter noted meant news and music. About three-quarters listened in the afternoons, which meant children’s programming, followed by “blood-and-thunder” programs just before dinner. All but eight students said they listened to the radio in the evening, perhaps with their family.
The radio was also on for about half the students while they studied, at least some of the time. Sixty percent also listened while they ate.
Four in ten students said they listened while going to sleep.
When the Radio Star Shone Bright
Soon, of course, the rise of the television would eclipse the radio, replacing the audio world with visuals that were far more compelling. But this survey reveals what a remarkably constant presence the radio had in the lives of 8-to-12-year-olds in the decades before the TV.