Lonesome Gal: Virtual Seduction in the Golden Age of Radio

lonesomeheaderWe often take our modern technological communications for granted these days. One could be plugged into the virtual network 24/7 and never fully realize the capacity for human connection that these means afford us. Whereas the digital age has now completely saturated popular culture, the golden age of radio relied simply upon the power of the human voice to connect with its audience.

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Lonesome Gal photo courtesy otrcat.com.

Take radio personality Jean King as one example of how to effectively reach listeners and consumers alike. She developed a cult following beginning in the late 1940s as Lonesome Gal, the virtual girlfriend to everyman. Listeners of WING in Dayton, Ohio would tune in for 15 minutes each week just to get some special attention from their Lonesome Gal. Every episode played out as if she were speaking directly to each individual in her audience, to whom she referred to as baby, sweetie, angel, dreamboat, and muffin, among other cute pet names.

Episodes often began with the introduction, “Sweetie, no matter what anybody says, I love you better than anybody in the whole world,” as the organ plays her theme song and she proceeds to coo endlessly about your charming mannerisms and depth of character.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Lonesome-Gal-Theme.mp3|titles=Lonesome Gal Opening Theme]

King’s vocal delivery has been described as warm, sexy, sultry, and, if I may add, mildly hypnotic and vaguely unsettling. In retrospect, her monologues may seem relatively tame, but under the traditional values and post-war mores of the time, King’s implicit sexuality was about as racy as it got. She earned a pack of rabid followers over her time on the air which led her to keep her identity a secret until 1953. For public appearances, she would even wear a mask to conceal her face, adding to the mystery that surrounded the Lonesome Gal character.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Lonesome-Gal-Clip-1-of-2.mp3|titles=Lonesome Gal shows off her jealous side…]

These days, the lonely and alienated are more like demographics that need to be manipulated for profit rather than comforted and encouraged. While this was also true of Lonesome Gal, who seduced her predominantly male audience into purchasing beer and tobacco, King was able to tap the psyches of her devoted followers and provide the illusion that they were the center of the universe. When the program was picked up by over 50 other stations, she even went so far as to adapt her scripts to match the markets for which she performed, adding an intimate and unique level of involvement for her audience.

The Marr Sound Archives contains only two Lonesome Gal transcription discs in its holdings. One of them is composed entirely of holiday greetings and musings from your virtual girlfriend in Dayton, Ohio. Listen below as she assigns your chores for this weekend, just like a real girlfriend!

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Lonesome-Gal-Clip-2-of-2.mp3|titles=Deck the halls with boughs of holly.|artists=Lonesome Gal]

lonesomediscFor more history and analysis, consult Mary Desjardins and Mark Williams’ essay entitled, “Are you lonesome tonight?”: Gendered Address in The Lonesome Gal and The Continental” from the book Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture, available in the EBL (E-Book Library) Database, or find more sound clips in The Internet Archive.

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