AUDIE CORNISH, host: Long before there were sitcoms, reality TV and programs like "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars," millions of Americans tuned their ears and their imaginations each week to the radio. Programs like "The Shadow," "Gunsmoke" and "Lux Radio Theater," were pretty popular in the 1930s through the 1950s; and even today, they have their fans. A few hundred of those fans gathered in Newark, New Jersey this weekend to keep the art of radio drama alive. But as Scott Gurian reports, this gathering will be their last.
SCOTT GURIAN: Elaine Hyman started acting from the age of 11 on a variety of radio programs like "The Green Hornet" and "The Lone Ranger."
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE LONE RANGER")
CLAYTON MOORE: (as the Lone Ranger) Hello, little girl. Ho, Silver, ho there.
ELAINE HYMAN: (as Sally) My name's Sally. And I live here. Are you an outlaw?
MOORE: No, Sally. We're not outlaws. And you needn't be frightened.
HYMAN: Oh, I'm not frightened. Why do you wear that mask, mister?
GURIAN: Now 77, Hyman says she gets nostalgic listening back to herself on those old broadcasts.
HYMAN: It was the kind of pure radio and pure Americana. Cowboys said things like shan't, and it was a very innocent time, and the shows were very innocent. I mean, the bad guys always got caught; they weren't that bad, and the good guys triumphed.
GURIAN: For Robert Flood and several other convention-goers who were blind or visually-impaired, old time radio programs served as a theater of the imagination.
ROBERT FLOOD: It was actually my mother who noticed that I was not focusing too well on my sight. So, she introduced me to a radio program, "The Lone Ranger." And when I was a little kid, I remember turning my chair around, and as Fred Foy would announce the Lone Ranger, I'd be riding with him visually in my head, because when you don't see with your eyes, you see with your mind.
GURIAN: The golden age of radio came to an end when CBS broadcast the last of its radio dramas in September 1962. And now, more than 50 years later, in an era of television, video games and changing tastes, convention organizers say that radio drama just doesn't have the audience it used to. Many of the old time radio actors are also dying out. So, after 36 years, the group Friends of Old Time Radio announced that this will be its last ever convention. It's not all bad news, though. People who want to listen back to episodes of "Sherlock Holmes" or "Abbot and Costello" now have more chances than ever via satellite radio and the Internet. For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.