Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Legacy of John Dunning's TUNE IN YESTERDAY

John Dunning, a key figure in preserving classic radio programs, promoting the classic radio hobby, and capturing its history through writing, research, and interviews, has passed away. His book, Tune in Yesterday, was the most significant and influential volume written about old-time radio and I know of no person in the hobby who does not have a copy. Decades later he would revise and expand his book to a new volume, On the Air, but I dare say no book left such an impact on fans of old-time radio than his initial volume. Joe Webb wrote a nice piece on Facebook about John Dunning and for that reason I am reprinting below what Joe published. 


Tune in Yesterday transformed our hobby for younger collectors like yours truly who never heard any programs until we found the hobby. We had to rely on dealer catalogs, mainly, to get an idea what to listen to. It was Dunning's book, this very one, that got many of us past the "ol' standards" of The Shadow, Jack Benny, Lone Ranger, and others that were commonly popular. It was Dunning who had us expand into so many other series and gave us background and intrigue that captured our interest and made us dedicated enthusiasts and not casual fans. He made us ready to try the really good and sometimes overlooked or underappreciated programs.


I was told back then that TiY had another 2/3 of material that had to be cut from the book. Much of that ended up in "The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio," a more detailed endeavor, also held in high regard. By that time, however, there was an established hobby. There were clubs. There were conventions. There were newsletters. It did not have the seminal effect that TiY had. TiY turned the hobby from hearsay and rumors into a more substantive endeavor. It became the reference for everyone. Young collectors shared a knowledgeable mentor in John Dunning.


And it was Dunning who encouraged the Denver area's legendary RHAC (Radio Historical Association of Colorado) efforts with some serious collecting activity with his broadcasts, especially all of his interviews of radio stars, supporting actors, and production pros. A key interview he did was with Roberta Bailey Goodwin, Bob Bailey's daughter, who discussed his acting career but also how his family broke up because of his ups and downs at the end of the radio era. It was easy to forget that performers had families and sometimes had very difficult times.


Thank you, John. TiY shaped the listening preferences and collecting aspirations of multiple generations of collectors. The hobby would not have been as enjoyable and inspiring if he had not made his important contributions to it. RIP