Long before epic series like Game of Thrones and Outlander kept us breathlessly awaiting the next episode, serial radio shows kept listeners beside their radios.
Busy taking care of housework in 30s and 40s without the benefit of today’s appliances, housewives tuned to tales of Clara, Lu, and Em, three sorority sisters, or Painted Dreams, a story of a mother and her unmarried daughter. Those stories continued from day to day and one story line led to another or multiple story lines.
Listeners, primarily women, lost themselves in the fictional lives. Networks and advertisers saw the great potential of a daytime market and serialized radio stories became daytime television stories.
The televised programs, dubbed daytime soaps because program sponsors were companies like Proctor and Gamble or soap operas because organ music transitioned from one scene to the next, quickly became popular. By 1970, the three major networks aired eighteen different daytime serials.
That’s where I came in.
My Oma’s favorite “stories” transitioned from radio to television. She followed her characters to the small screen and took me with her. We’d have lunch on TV trays and catch up on As the World Turns then return later in the afternoon for Guiding Light. The shows, originally fifteen minutes in length, expanded to an hour presentations.
The stories were fascinating and progressive for their time. Women didn’t dress like Aunt Bea of Mayberry. They had flawed marriages, rotten kids, and successful careers. In fact, the police chief and head cardiologist of General Hospital were both females.
There were cheating spouses, secret babies, evil twins, amnesia victims, ghosts, time travel, and vampires. The shows aired daily allowing little time to fully memorize and polish lines like prime time shows. There were no retakes with live TV.
Nowadays only four daytime soaps remain: The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS), Days of Our Lives (NBC), General Hospital (ABC), and The Young and the Restless (CBS). But, viewer numbers are shrinking so the number may shrink more.
I rarely watch any of them. They aren’t my soap.
MY soap was Guiding Light. It first aired on radio in 1937, moved to television in 1952, and ended on my birthday in 2009 after a record seventy-two years. I still miss the Spaulding, Cooper, and Lewis families, especially Reva and Josh.
While some consider soap opera watching a waste of time, I credit my hours of watching with sparking my storyteller gene and providing endless ideas for story lines.