The Library of Virginia

Comedy, drama, music, sports, news, religious services-radio programming has, since the 1920s, offered something for everyone for a few hours each day. WQAT, in Richmond, used the station of a local amateur to broadcast music from phonograph records and, in 1922, the World Series. In 1923, WTAR in Norfolk broadcast a two-hour concert, religious services, and, in 1924, the Democratic National Convention. In Roanoke, WDBJ aired old-time banjo and fiddle music in 1924 and, by "coincidence," sold radio parts from its parent company, Richardson-Wayland.

Storefront remote broadcast

The Sunshine Hour audience

Storefront remote broadcast (National Radio Month)

The Sunshine Hour starred Holland R. Wilkinson, the singing evangelist, and was broadcast from 1927 to 1954.


In 1926, a new form of program hit the airwaves to great success. Amos 'n' Andy, originally known as Sam 'n' Henry, aired its first program on January 12, 1926 on WGN in Chicago. The show was an instant hit. When Amos 'n' Andy joined NBC in 1929, the sale of radios skyrocketed and millions of listeners tuned in. Amos 'n' Andy was only the beginning of the evolution of programming during radio's golden years of the 1930s and 1940s. Before the advent of television, people listened to situation comedies (Easy Aces and The Goldbergs), dramas (The Lone Ranger and The Shadow), adventures (Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy), and soap operas (The Hilltop House and The Second Mrs. Burton). Radio also offered comedy variety shows as The Rudy Vallee Show, The Fred Allen Show, and The Charlie McCarthy Show with ventriloquist Edward Bergen and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy. Radio even broadcast aliens. In 1938, a broadcast announced that Martians had invaded New York and New Jersey, wreaking havoc and devastation. Orson Welles directed the radio dramatization known as The War of the Worlds. Many listeners, however, did not hear the opening credits, actually believed that Martians were invading, and panicked.

Virginia Fiddlers

Calling All Cooks

In the early days, radio stations used local talent. The Virginia Fiddlers played on WRVA in the 1920s. Applause memos tracked how far WRVA's signal reached and which programs were most popular.

Virginia Fiddlers (left to right: Bernard Belvian, John Seay, and W. C. Gilliam). 1920s. Photograph.

WRVA experimented with a cooking show in 1934 when it promised advertisers that, for $100, Miss Belle T. Abrams would mention their products on her ten-show cooking school. WRVA later launched Calling All Cooks that offered advise on cooking and demonstrated the latest in culinary appliances and products.

Calling All Cooks. 1950s.


As the world became enveloped in the Second World War, broadcast journalism emerged. People tuned in to listen to Arthur Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, Edwin C. Hill, and H. V. Kaltenborn to hear the latest news. Radio brought into American living rooms Adolf Hitler's speeches and journalist William L. Shirer's commentary, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to the U. S. Congress after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and news of the invasion on Europe on June 6, 1944.

With the arrival of television in the late 1940s, people no longer listened to their favorite shows; they watched them. Radio remained popular in areas where television reception was difficult, but, as the 1950s continued and Americans hit the road, they took their radios with them.


Joe Matthew's Sabbath Glee Club

Image of reeanactment of Patrick Henry's speech

Joe Matthew's Sabbath Glee Club

Radio offered live theater including the reenactment of Patrick Henry's 1775 "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, with Douglas Southall Freeman as the famous orator.

Radio in Virginia

The Development of Radio

WRVA - The Voice of Virginia

Network Radio

Radio Icon
Radio Programming

The Programs and Announcers