January 1937 was a really long time ago -- maybe not long in dinosaur years, but a long time in the entertainment world. That's when a new radio show appeared, called "Guiding Light" (pictured) for a light that stayed on at the house of a preacher to offer comfort to those in need.
This Friday, after 72 years and about 18,000 episodes (on radio and then television), the last vestige of the golden age of radio drama will be gone.
Daytime dramas and comedies were an important part of the radio universe because they were aimed at a captive audience: the women who, in the days before the war, stayed home, raised kids and made sure dinner was ready when the breadwinner came home. The housewife had chores to do, with radio often her only companion. This was great for the housewives, but even better for the companies who used radio to sell their products -- like the soap companies which sponsored the short radio dramas that eventually came to be called "soap operas."
"Guiding Light" was just one of hundreds of daily 15-minute slices of life that told the stories of other people leading other lives. Extraordinarily tame by the standards of the 21st century they dealt with the rich and poor, the married and single, the young and old -- but never the gay, just the straight. Why "Guiding Light" survived all these years rather than some other similar show is not known. Many radio soaps transitioned to television, but none lasted. Perhaps it was luck, skill, timing or something else entirely.
Either way, this last tenuous connection to another world and a simpler time will be severed Friday.
Yesterday, CBS News Sunday Morning did a nice recap of the show. You can read the story here.
Today, NPR aired a tribute piece, which you can hear here.