A Lifelong Radio Man Wins New Fans With 'Big Broadcast' Ed Walker fell in love with radio as a kid in the 1930s. Today, as the host of WAMU 88.5's beloved Sunday night show, he introduces a new generation to classic programs from the golden age of radio.
NPR logo

A Lifelong Radio Man Wins New Fans With 'Big Broadcast'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/283115394/286886211" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Lifelong Radio Man Wins New Fans With 'Big Broadcast'

A Lifelong Radio Man Wins New Fans With 'Big Broadcast'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/283115394/286886211" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Wait, scratch that. Let's try it again - with a little music.


CORNISH: Ah, that's more like it. We're going to spend the next few minutes looking back at the Golden Age of Radio. Our tour guide is a man named Ed Walker. And if you live here in Washington, D.C., and listen to member station WAMU on Sunday nights, you know his name and this music. Walker uses it to open his much-beloved program, "The Big Broadcast," a mainstay in Washington for decades.


ED WALKER: Well, here we go again folks, time for the "The Big Broadcast." And we hope you're ready for some old-time radio for the next four hours.

CORNISH: Among the old-time radio you're likely to hear...


WALKER: (As Johnny Dollar) Johnny Dollar.

CORNISH: That's usually first on Walker's list. Then...


CORNISH: "Dragnet," of course. And the biggest hit with listeners...


CORNISH: ..."Gunsmoke." "The Big Broadcast" ranks first in its Washington time slot, and its audience is remarkably young for a public radio crowd.

WALKER: I get a lot requests, believe it or not, from kids. They have television, but I've gotten emails that say: We don't even turn the television on, on Sunday night. And they love it because with the good sound effects and everything like that, it is - like, somebody referred to radio as the theater of the mind, which it is.

CORNISH: Walker, who is 81 years old and was born blind, records "The Big B," as it's known at the station, every Tuesday morning.

WALKER: Hi, folks.

CORNISH: Hi there, Mr. Walker.

WALKER: How are you?

CORNISH: Audie Cornish.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You guys want a chair?

WALKER: Yeah, all right. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. (Laughter)

CORNISH: We recently visited Walker in his studio to talk about "The Big Broadcast" and his earliest radio memories.

WALKER: See, radio was everything to me. Not being able to see, the sound on radio was important. Radio took the place of comic books and newspapers and the funnies, and all that stuff. So I grew up with it.

CORNISH: Can you describe what you heard? What show really struck you, and you remember - kind of describe what it sounded like.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Fit as a fiddle and ready for love. I could jump over the moon up above...

WALKER: "The National Barn Dance"; I was a little kid then. That was - I was preschool. It was sort of like the Grand Ole Opry, but it was from WLS in Chicago.


JOE KELLY: Hello. Hello. Hello, everybody everywhere. How's Mother and Dad and the whole family?

WALKER: Somebody had a cowbell, and they'd ring this cowbell. And somehow, my mother found one and gave it to me, and I would ring that cowbell. That was my first indoctrination into radio. So like, I'd go to bed maybe after 10 o'clock at night. Bob Hope, I guess, was on at 10 o'clock; and some of the others that I would listen to, as I went to sleep. It didn't matter. I just listened to everything I could get.


BOB HOPE: (Singing) Ah, thank you so much...

How do you do, ladies and gentlemen? This is the Pepsodent Kid, Bob Hope...

WALKER: Some of the kids that send me emails say: We listen - we put our transistor radio under the pillow, and listen to your show until we go to sleep. (Laughter)

CORNISH: Do they remind you of yourself, then?

WALKER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. What's old is new again.

CORNISH: Now, I read that you actually had your own radio show when you were a little kid.

WALKER: Oh, yeah. I used to go down the street to the houses, knock on the door and say, I'm going on the air in about a half-hour.


CORNISH: You were your own promo guy.

WALKER: Yeah. Oh yeah, my own rating service. The kids never took much of it. But it held me in good stead when I went to AU.

CORNISH: AU is nearby American University. There, Walker wanted to study broadcasting. But his tuition was to be paid for by a vocational rehabilitation service. And they didn't think a blind man could work in radio. He visited lots of campuses with radio stations, and heard the same...

WALKER: You can't do that. You can't do it. So I said - well, that made me more determined. So rehab said, we will sponsor you for your college tuition if you'll agree to major in sociology, and then you can become a social worker. I said, well, nothing against social workers but I don't want to do that. And they said, well, if you can prove to us that there's a future for you in broadcasting, we'll let you change your major. So I did.

The first year, when I got started with a couple other guys - the campus radio station, which now is WAMU-FM. I'm proud of that fact. And it kind of holds you, and when - you know, when I was in college, being heard on the campus station made it easier to get dates, for example.


WALKER: So - it's true. I mean, that opened a lot of doors for me.

CORNISH: Not only that, it was at AU that Walker met the man who would become a longtime friend, both off the air and on.


WILLARD SCOTT: Happy Birthday from Smucker's. Take a look, if you will, Elizabeth Woodard...

CORNISH: That's Willard Scott. Before "The Today Show" introduced him to the country, Scott was a radio man in Washington. And in 1952, he and Walker teamed up for a music and comedy show.


WALKER: This is "The Joy Boys Show."

SCOTT: I'm putting the microphone here, you old mic hog.

WALKER: Oh, excuse me. Was I too close? This Ed Walker here.

SCOTT: Let's sit that microphone right over here. I'm sick and tired of playing second fiddle...

WALKER: This is Ed Walker here...

We did things on "The Joy Boys" - like, we made up a soap opera called "As the Worm Turns."


WALKER: (As announcer) And now, the continuing true-to-life story, "As the Worm Turns." The story of life today...

We both did different voices and everything.

CORNISH: What did you specialize in? What kind of voices did you do?

WALKER: One I used to do was an old man's voice. I always called him Old Granddad. And he talked like this, you know, he was old. That's my regular voice now.


CORNISH: For much of their two decades on the air, "The Joy Boys" evening show was appointment listening. But television eventually overtook radio, and the program ended in 1974.

TOBY SHRINER: And the intro to "Gunsmoke: A Liar From Black Hawk."

WALKER: "Gunsmoke: A Liar From Black Hawk." That's pretty good, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That's a good one.


SHRINER: Rolling.

WALKER: Three, two, one...

CORNISH: After years of hosting various local programs, in 1990, Ed Walker took over the show he hosts today, "The Big Broadcast."


WALKER: Join me for "The Big Broadcast," won't you, from 6 to 10? We'll have Johnny Dollar, "Dragnet," "Gunsmoke," "The Life of Riley"...

SHRINER: You crackled a little there. Let's redo.

WALKER: Yes, master. Here we go. See, that's why I have Toby as our engineer.

CORNISH: Toby is Toby Shriner, who has been on the other side of the glass for most of Walker's 23 years on "The Big B." Walker reports to the studio with a handful of scripts he's typed at home on a Braille typewriter. But it's clear he doesn't really need them. He is a one-man radio archive.

WALKER: I guess I was born in nostalgia, I don't know.


BETTY HUTTON: (Singing) Do-do-do-do-do-do-do.

PERRY COMO: What you doing, honey?

HUTTON: Doodling. Can you doodle?

COMO: Can I doodle? I can't get it out of my noodle.

HUTTON: How come?

COMO: (Singing) 'Cause I love you a bushel and a peck...

CORNISH: And here's the key to Ed Walker and the reason he and "The Big Broadcast" have earned such a loyal following. He clearly loves what he's doing. When Toby plays a song from the coming week's broadcast, Walker whistles along.

HUTTON: About me?

COMO: (Singing) Yes, about you.

HUTTON: (Singing) My heart is leaping, having trouble sleeping...

CORNISH: And after beginning each broadcast with a quick run through the night's schedule, Walker pauses for his signature welcome.

WALKER: If you have anything that's bothering you in the coming week, don't worry about it now. Or any problems that you had in the week just past, forget them too. This is our time of the week, right now; the island between last week and the coming week. So settle back, relax, get yourself a cup of coffee or whatever you want, and get ready to enjoy "The Big Broadcast."


CORNISH: Is that for the audience, or for you?

WALKER: That's for the audience.

CORNISH: And a little bit for yourself?

WALKER: For me, too.


CORNISH: Well, Ed Walker, thank you so much for speaking with us, and letting us tag along for the taping. This was fun.

WALKER: Well, I hope I didn't bore you all to death.

CORNISH: No. Of course, not. I loved being on this little island with you.

WALKER: Well, thank you dear. That's good.


EDDIE CANTOR: (Singing) I love to spend each Sunday with you...

CORNISH: Ed Walker, host of "The Big Broadcast" from WAMU in Washington, D.C. And the program streams all week long at WAMU.org.


CANTOR: (Singing) Let's make a date for next Sunday night. I'm here to ...

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.