Radio Psychics

Mind Reading and Fortune Telling in American Broadcasting, 1920–1940


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About the Book

When radio broadcasting began in the early 1920s, the radio was a magic box aglow with the future, drawing humanity into a new age. Some thought it would dissolve the distance between time and place, others that human minds would become transparent, one tuned to another. Performers claiming psychic powers turned radio broadcasting into a fabulous money machine. These “mentalists,” born from vaudeville, circuses, sideshows, and the Spiritualist and New Thought movements of the mid-late 19th century, used the language of wireless technology to explain their ability to see the past, present, and future. Casting their mystical knowledge as a scientifically honed craft, these mentalists persuaded millions to pay for dubious advice until governmental and public pressures forced them off the air. This book is a history of over 25 performers who practiced their art behind studio microphones during the early years of radio broadcasting, from about 1920 to 1940. Here, laid out for the first time, is the tale of how they made cash rain from the heavens and harnessed the sensation of the radio in search of wealth, health, love, and success.

About the Author(s)

John Benedict Buescher is the former chief of the Tibetan Broadcast Service of the Voice of America. He has authored articles on radio broadcasting to Tibet and books on the history of Buddhism and on the history of 19-century American Spiritualism. He is a co-director of the International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

Bibliographic Details

John Benedict Buescher

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 432
Bibliographic Info: 125 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8465-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4235-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1

Introduction: Broadcasts from the Borderland 7
The Mentalist Performance 7
Magicians, Mediums, Magnetists and Astrologers 9
Wireless Millennium 23
Human Radios 36
Transmitting Secrets 42
The Rise and Fall of Radio Mentalism 45

1. First on the Air 49
Hope Eden 49
Julius Zancig 63
Paul Kara 68
2. Front Yard Burial 78
Leona Lamar 78
Hamid Bey 86
3. Sex Secrets Revealed 93
Signa Serene 93
4. Who Am We? 103
Princess Wahletka 103
Joveddah De Rajah 113
5. Hypnotized by Radio 119
Vishnu and Zinnia 119
Charles Harad 124
6. The Long Blindfold Drive 133
Francill 133
7. Persuaded by Shadows 151
Norman Baker 154
Gayle Norman II 168
Phenomena 172
8. Spirits of the Air 177
Ethel Duncan 177
Alma and Zandra 183
9. Across the Border 197
­­Mel-Roy 197
Ralph Richards 206
Marjah 216
10. Bank on Belief 221
Koran and Rose Dawn 221
11. A Family of Troupers 244
Alburtus 244
12. Wizards’ War 267
Rajah Raboid 267
Princess Yvonne and Doc Irving 286
Bob and Larry Nelson 298
13. What the Audience Will Bear 320
Gene Dennis 320
Joseph Dunninger 339

Coda 345
Appendix: Some Other Mentalists in Early Radio 351
Chapter Notes 361
Bibliography 405
Index 413

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Includes details of how powerful radio stations along the border helped former vaudeville actors…some of the most popular radio programs in the United States featured radio psychics…author John Buescher dove deep into this history”—Texas Standard, The National Daily News Show of Texas

•“The depth of his knowledge is remarkable…thorough research…valuable.”—Journal of the Society for Psychical Research

• “Exceptionally informative and unique contribution to 20th Century American History…highly recommended.”—Midwest Book Review