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Spotlight on: On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning

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On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio

This review is going to be formatted differently than usual. Right off, I'm just going to start by saying that every old-time radio fan reading this needs to just stop reading right now and buy a copy of On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. John Dunning's definitive encyclopedia of the golden age (and then some) of radio needs to be on the shelf of anyone who dares to call himself a fan.

Building from his earlier work, Tune in Yesterday, John Dunning (a long-time fan of radio himself) has written the encyclopedia of radio. I didn't have my copy for a long time and had no idea what I was missing. You'll not only be graced with full schedules and showtimes, but also the history of each show, sometimes with memorable quotes from favorite episodes.

The index alone is worth the price of the book, with actors cross-referenced to shows you didn't even know they appeared in. The bold page numbers steer the reader to the featured articles, but reading all the related articles is fun, too. Heck, even just browsing can while away hours of your time, as each show entry will remind you of another that you just have to look up. While looking up one show, the eye crosses the title of another on the page heading and, bang, you're away and have forgotten what you took the book down off the shelf for to begin with. In this way, you'll learn the names of favorite character actors whose voices you recognize from different shows, but whose name escape your memory (Frank Lovejoy and Elliott Lewis leap to my mind). Then, you can look them up in the index and discover more of their work for you to seek out.

Of course, even with a book this size, not all of the shows are going to have exhaustive articles, but Dunning has done as much as one man possibly can. He has compiled obscurities lovingly, interviewed living cast and crew members for memories, sought out archival copies of long-thought-lost shows, and researched like a madman to bring us On the Air. There is not likely to be another encyclopedia of radio that is so much fun to read. In this way, it equates the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll for sheer browsability.

I've read the Lackmann book (The Encyclopedia of American Radio), and it's okay if you're on a budget or are interested in modern radio (which I'm not), but On the Air is the one that really gives you your money's worth, even though it costs considerably more. You'll be better off saving your money and buying this solid work than wasting less of it on an error-ridden lesser one. Also pick up Dunning's radio novel, Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime, for a terrific read that is also a behind-the-scenes look at World War II-era radio.

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