No Soap, Radio!

One of the first “clean” jokes I learned in high school in the 1960’s from a new group of friends was the “no soap” radio joke. It was a small step up from those annoying “knock, knock” jokes. The idea was to start telling a humorous story that seemed to be directed to a punch line but then instead of delivering it, the teller would say “no soap radio”. The recipient of such stupidity instantly acquired a feeling as if two minutes of their life had been wasted. It is akin to what all Cubs fans experience while watching a Chicago Cubs game where they are leading in the 9th inning only to witness the so-called closer walk the bases loaded and give up the winning runs. You think to yourself, “why bother?”

The thing in listening to the joke was that you knew it was coming to an illogical conclusion but you still laughed because you thought it was supposed to be funny but were maybe too stupid to get it. Sort of like an initiation within a cabal of lunatic friends.

I did a search on the Internet and found a plausible suggestion that the expression at one time had to do with listeners being upset that the show they wanted to hear was not on the airwaves but instead a boring, soap opera. Thus, “no- (it’s) soap radio!” The idea being was to laugh it off and think that at least older folk would be happy because they could hear their favorite dramatic soap opera. The ones who would be frustrated would be those attuned to the half hour sitcoms starring Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, Amos and Andy, and the list goes on.

Baby boomers, of course, were mostly born after World War II as the beginning of the decline in network entertainment radio occurred. When I came aboard, television was in its infancy but already stealing away audiences from radio. I grew up on the stars mentioned above, but while watching them on their television shows. I didn’t even know that they had a previous career on the radio dial. Sort of like kids today finding it a hard time to believe that their grandparents had black and white television sets that required an antenna and offered at the most six channels in the larger cities.

One day in the early 1970’s Dad discovered a Chicago radio station that found its niche by playing reruns of so-called Old Time Radio. His enjoyment of these shows rubbed off on my kid brother and me. More than fifty years after these shows stopped broadcasting first run, they still provide entertainment. Now, instead of waiting to hear the one Chicago station that still plays old shows at midnight, I go on the Internet and click websites such as:
StreamingThe.Net is also a useful site to find just about any radio station format in the world. No soap, radio!

Chicago Radio Daze

Do kids listen to the radio for music anymore? Apparently less and less are doing so and broadcasters are taking notice. A new 24 hour all-news radio station is taking to the airwaves in Chicago with the call letters of WWWN-FM , 101.1 on the dial. Most recently the same spot had been WKQX, a music station. In addition, WBBM-AM in Chicago, a CBS-owned radio station, has just started duplicating their AM signal on 105.9 FM. It had until recently been WCFS, an adult contemporary music station.

CBS officials say that by adding the FM signal for their all-day newscasts, other than seasonal sports broadcasts, those in downtown, high-rise congested areas as well as far out suburbs will now be able to pick up their signal. AM stands for amplitude modulation which relies on the strength or loudness of the signal. This is why some stations covet having 50,000 clear watt signals that get picked up at night as well. There are some AM stations that are even mandated to go off the air after sundown. WGN was chartered an all clear 50,000 watt station because they were willing to air a decent amount of farm related news to the Midwest.

FM stands for frequency modulation. The ability to pick up these signals are based on the proximity, not the loudness, to the transmitter. This is why it is often easier to pick up FM radio stations than AM in areas with tall buildings. The signal strength is not interfered with as much especially if the FM transmission tower is nearby.

This jockeying for supremacy of the Chicago airwaves and changing of the guard in listener tastes brings back several memories for baby boomers listening to radio in the 1960’s. Before the Beatles showed up we used to listen to rock and roll stars like Elvis, The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Leslie Gore and many others. The music played loud and it all sounded pretty much the same. But to us the real stars were maybe the disk jockeys who fought for our attention on the various music radio outlets.

At one time or another three stations- WLS, WJJD and WCFL rocked us for loyalty and ratings numbers. Dick Biondi was king of the hill on WLS. By 1964 he was gone and returned to Chicago on arch-rival WCFL in 1967. Biondi as of most recently was still on the airwaves doing nostalgic radio, some fifty years later.

Art Roberts took the baton at WLS in the mid 1960’s and was the top dj for a while. Larry Lujack went on to super stardom first at ‘LS and then ‘CFL in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

By the late 1960’s, I didn’t care much to listen to the British rockers who inundated American culture. As I was in my late teens then, I was more interested in sports and talk on the radio to help me fall asleep.

In the morning, I’d wake up to, as did most kids, Wally Phillips on WGN radio because that’s what our mothers were listening to in the kitchen as they prepared breakfast. In my case, it was something I could not avoid. I slept in the dining room adjoining the kitchen as we only had three bedrooms and five kids- three sisters and a baby brother. I drew the short end of the stick in a stacked deck.

Wally presented a hodgepodge of news, weather, sports, talk, bits of humor, topical discussions, and a sliver of music. Until the day he retired, he was at the top of the radio Arbitron ratings.

In the early ’60s, to help me fall asleep, I’d listen to Jack Eigen on WMAQ in the Palmer House Pump Room, or was it the Chez Paree, interview celebrities passing through town. Or, if I was in a different mood, it would be good old Franklin McCormick on WGN playing his big band music and lullabies. His mellifluous cadence was enough to hypnotize anyone to sleep in 10 minutes or less.

Today some of these call letters are used on different frequencies and the station formats are a far cry from those in the 1960’s. Some, such as WMAQ and all-news WNUS have been retired. WIND is now
a conservative talk station as well as WLS. WCFL which had 1000 on the dial has given up the spot to an all sports talk station owned by ESPN. During the past twenty years, with the migration of Mexicans to Chicago, Spanish language oriented stations have developed large followings and big numbers in the ratings. Incredibly, WGN is still what it was 50 years ago, catering to sports and mostly middle-age tastes. As always , they host the Chicago Cubs games on radio and despite a few blips of post-season success, no announcer has yet to be able to boast that one can hear the World Champion Cubs on WGN. I think when it does happen, radio programs will just be transmitted over the Internet. And the announcer will be called a podcaster. Transistor radios will be shown in museum exhibits and clock radios will be thrown out when seniors sell their homes and move to assisted living facilities. But, don’t touch that dial!- or should I say website address url?

Radio Nights

By Larry Teren


My dad gave me a pocket transistor radio with an earphone in the very early 1960’s. I had eclectic tastes even then. Depending on the mood or what was available, I would listen to Dick Biondi spin rock and roll records on WLS or Franklin MacCormack and his “All Night Meister Brau Showcase” on WGN. If the Chicago Cubs were on the road, especially a West Coast night game in Los Angeles or San Francisco, I’d be sure to listen in on the broadcast.

There was something cool about listening with the earphone plugged in even though there was no one else in the bedroom to disturb. I’m sure I fell asleep countless times this way only to wake up with the earphone somehow laying under the pillow.     Continue reading “Radio Nights”