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Radio, Page After Page

Book titles you might consider as a gift or for your own fireside

My mom recently bought me a Kindle for my 50th birthday. She did so with some trepidation, knowing how much I enjoy my books.

I’m putting this wireless reading device to good use — currently deep into “The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyptic Year, 1666” by Neil Hanson, prompted by a recent memorable vacation in London — but I don’t think I’ll surrender entirely to the format. I just get too much pleasure out of hefting a well-made printed book, looking at its cover, flipping back and forth through the photos, smelling the pages.

Here are some titles you might want to know about this holiday shopping season.

“Horror Stars on Radio” —I had occasion recently to spend time in the car with my colleague James O’Neal, whose hard drive is loaded with fabulous early radio content. We listened to an episode of “Suspense” featuring Vincent Price, and I was struck again by the master’s remarkable voice, its uniquely unsettling effect.

But perhaps I should not say “unique.” Here’s a book, written by Ronald L. Smith, that explores radio performances of a couple dozen horror movie stars, including Price, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, Una O’Connor, Agnes Moorehead, Fay Wray and other “scream queens.” It includes lots of photos. Retail price: $45, a bit less on Amazon (and about $16 via Kindle!). Published by McFarland.

“Champagne & Caviar” — James Kefford subtitles his book “A Radio Man’s Dreams, Challenges and Adventures,” and it is just that.

I’ve told you about other titles like this, works by people with a passion for radio who thrived in one corner of the radio industry or another, stories (often self-published) unlikely ever to break the top 10 on Amazon but perfect should you like nothing more than “sitting down” with a fellow radio pro and hearing stories about their careers.

If you wonder what it was like to work at syndicator Drake-Chenault in the 1970s and ’80s (Kefford became its president), or are curious how a 15-year-old DJ making $1.05 an hour might end up in community banking and philanthropy in Australia, here’s one for you. The book is informal, sometimes unpolished, a quick, personal read. Kefford intersperses his text with fun lists of notable tunes for each year from 1947 to 2009 — from Sammy Kaye and Pat Boone to Alicia Keys and Black Eyed Peas.

Paperback, on Amazon for $16.99 (or $4.99 via Kindle). You can read a preview at

“Broadcast News: Writing, Reporting and Producing” — The fifth edition of a Focal Press title. Earlier editions were by the late Ted White; Frank Barnas has updated the text. This is a book for students, and as much about journalism basics as it is about mic technique and how to avoid writing negative leads. Much is devoted to television; but with the convergence of video, audio, online and other new media, the book is for anyone who wants to learn the basics in this field.

Paperback, it retails for $49.95 but I saw it for much less on Amazon, and there is a Kindle edition too for about $25.

“Music Radio: The Great Performers and Programs of the 1920s Through Early 1960s” — Also from publisher McFarland is a paperback version of Jim Cox’s 2005 book “Music Radio: The Great Performers and Programs of the 1920s through Early 1960s.”

His book “encompasses the entire range of musical programming from the early 1920s to the early 1960s. Jazz, country, classical, gospel, pop, big band, western, and semi-classical forms are covered, as are the vocalists, instrumentalists and disc jockeys who made them available to listeners.” This book is for the radio programming fan who differentiates “The Bell Telephone Hour” from “The Cities Service Concerts” and “Your Hit Parade.” It’s a 380-page softcover, $39.95 on Amazon. If you are ordering for the holidays, check availability; the paperback was due in early December as I write this.

And a special tip of the hat to McFarland & Co., which a while ago issued a promotional brochure focused entirely on its collection of books about radio. Most of the titles are about radio programming, but there’s also some tech, ham sales and other history topics. Its books include “Waging ‘The War of the Worlds,’” a history of that famous 1938 broadcast, including the original script, and published in 2009; “Christian Radio: The Growth of a Mainstream Broadcasting Force” (2006); “Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting” (2003); “The Audio Theater Guide,” about vocal acting, writing and directing (2009); “The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950,” published in 2007; and “Cold War Radio,” a look at American broadcasting in Europe during that time (2009).

If you need radio book gift ideas, go to and click on Radio, under Pop Culture & Performing Arts.