Friday, February 18, 2011

The draw of serials

With the exception of Johnny Dollar and Lum and Abner, serials were made for women and children.  And most all of them were on in the daytime when dad was at work.  The really soapy stuff was on before Junior came home from school as well.

While it appears the serial was made for the woman or better still, the housewife, there is an odd draw for even the male old-time radio listener to serials.  Kid shows are popular with men (just ask me.) I love almost all of the serials except the soap operas.

The draw is the cliffhanger. Every episode of the serial (besides the last one of the "current story") leaves an unresolved problem.

In the kids' shows, it was always a perilous moment; will Superman be able to find the letter that contains his real identity? In Lum and Abner - who keeps moving the stuffed owl - or is the stuffed owl alive? In Ethel and Albert it was who will win the heavyweight fight on TV (and thus win the $5 bet between the couple.)

Yes, some cliffhangers were better than others but they kept the listener coming back for more.  And when you came back for more, you heard the endless commercials and if you heard the commercials, you might buy the product.

By the time the forties and WWII arrived, the serials became quite provocative (for the time, anyway.)  There was often a hint of suggested sex - or questioning of morals in the war era.  This was especially tantalizing for the housewife (whose husband was away on another continent) or the older teen female (whose boyfriend might be there also.)  Basically, these women were lonely.

And Junior was lonely too - as dad was away.  Who could the boy look up to?  Who would captivate his excitement?  Why, it was Superman and Batman and Robin and others just like them.  Also flying aces (very popular in the early 1940's) and there was even stuff for Junior's little sister on the radio. 

Serials had the advantage of only lasting 15 minutes, so you could do your work and then perhaps, take a 15 minute break from cleaning up the house. Kids, with their abnormally low attention span, were able to focus for 15 minutes (maybe) and enjoy Superman before hitting the books and their homework.

Cereals were popular sponsors  with the serials - no pun intended, but absolutely the truth.  Moms were in charge of getting the kids and her husband off and running - what was easier to fix than cereal?  Even a man or kid who had no culinary skills could fix cereal. 

Serials are still a lot of fun.  Going day to day with an unresolved outcome in a good serial is addicting.


  1. My favorite as a kid was Terry and the Pirates. Now I like I Love a Mystery. Never heard it live as a kid, but, their cliff hangers keep me coming back for more. Currently I am listening to their 'The Fear that Creeps Like a Cat.' I plan on listening to all their productions, at least the ones I have downloaded. Recommend the show to others. It is 15 minutes long and unfortunately a lot of lead time to the story which leaves little for the story itself. But, what the heck, it is so good.

  2. Sorry to say I have heard neither show. I may have heard one I Love a Mystery way back...

    I can't find any quality recordings (just checked for 'em.)

    Is Terry and Pirates any good?

  3. Terry and the Pirates are for small kids. Have not listened to any recently. Only as a kid. I Love a Mystery is really good. For adults.


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