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Eric: Brought to you by Blue Coal! America's most healthful coal!

It shouldn't come as any surprise that I'm a big fan of old time radio. In fact, one the things I'm most hoping to see out of the Podcast phenomenon is a return to radio plays -- melodramas and cliffhangers, and a sense that everyone from the announcer to the advertiser is standing in the same room, along with a couple of foley guys, trying to get everything out within the hour alloted.

So, I was pretty thrilled to discover R U Sitting Comfortably, a monumental online storehouse of old time radio programs, with literally thousands of hours of the stuff. It's a subscription site, but oh man what you get in that subscription.

They have almost two hundred episodes of The Shadow, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. And hundreds of fifteen minute episodes of The Adventures of Superman. And Jack Benny and The Green Hornet and Suspense and Fibber Magee and Molly. They have great shows and terrible ones (including a healthy run of the absolutely wretched situation comedy The Aldrich Family. I remember once, driving across the country with my father, we happened to be listening to an old time radio broadcast off of some radio station or the other -- we were having fun with it, and then they went to The Aldrich Family, and my father fairly threw up. He remembered it from when he was a kid, and he saw no reason why I should be subjected to such banality. I insisted, because how bad could it be. This proved once again my father is smarter than I am.)

They also have The Lux Radio Theater, which was hosted by Cecil B. DeMille himself, and featured abridged versions of actual movies currently in the theater, adapted for radio and almost always starring the original stars. Imagine it. It'd be like Steven Spielberg hosting an hour long television show on Tuesday nights on ABC, and on this week's episode, why here's Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning putting on "War of the Worlds" for you!

(Think I'm exaggerating? They got Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed to do "It's a Wonderful Life" on one episode. Other episodes featured Erroll Flynn and Olivia Dehaviland in "Captain Blood," and Gary Cooper in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." They got Bogart and Bacall in "To Have and Have Not," for Christ's sake. Humphrey Bogart! On the radio! For free! To advertise soap!)

This collection is staggeringly good. Gunsmoke, with William Conrad. X-1. Buck Rogers. Dragnet. Listening to it, you can see the deep differences in storytelling techniques from this era and today. And yeah, sometimes you hear some groaners. I listened to one serial over the past week or two, in my spare time: it was "Batman's Big Mystery," from The Adventures of Superman. And it was fantastic -- Bud Collier (who voiced Superman on the radio and on all the Max Fleischer cartoons, and then came back to voice the Man of Steel for television cartoons in the sixties) and the rest did a great job. But at the same time, it had horrible continuity from one episode to the next (they kept forgetting what people knew Bruce Wayne was Batman, for example).

Oh, and anyone who thinks there's a liberal bias on television today needs to have a listen to "Batman's Big Mystery." In essentially every episode, men speaking out against the Marshall Plan in Europe were castigated and derided as Unamerican bigots no right thinking decent human being would have anything to do with. Over, and over again. And the main villain -- a profiteer and isolationist who had learned Batman's secret and was using it as blackmail to drum up support for his horrible, evil bigoted ways -- paid the price when his greed caused him to run back into a burning building and be crushed under fiery timbers, dying horribly.

This, of course, was just a kid's show. The Shadow got far more gruesome. But was also far less political.

I love it. I really do. The expositions. The overdramatic organ music. Even the advertisements! I'm within two episodes of biting the bullet and converting my apartment to coal heat -- it's so economical and healthful, and provides a steady warmth that only the finest of Pennsylvania's anthracite could -- but only if it's Blue coal, where every carful is laboratory tested and a harmless blue coating is applied right at the mine so you and I can tell quality blue coal when we see it!

It's $7.50 a month, and the moment you subscribe you can start sucking down all the radio you want. I have no idea what the copyright status is on any of this stuff (there are no notices, and I know for certain that Conde Nast continues to maintain copyright on the Shadow broadcasts, for example), so God knows how long it'll last before it vanishes. But until it does, you owe it to yourself and to our shared cultural history to dip a toe into the waters of 30's and 40's radio and learn what all the fuss is about.

If nothing else, listen to a bunch of Shadow episodes. They're worth it.

But don't listen to The Aldrich Family. My father wouldn't lie to you.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 26, 2005 3:52 PM


Comment from: HKR posted at July 26, 2005 4:02 PM

I remember for christmas a few years ago, I got a big box set full of cassete tapes of The Adventures of Superman show. On the cover is a picture of Superman, Batman and Robin playing baseball.

I should really dig those tapes out and listen to them.

Comment from: Stan posted at July 26, 2005 4:15 PM

There used to be an station that played only old shows when I was in high school and college. It eventually went under but I liked getting a feel for things like Our Miss Brooks and Amos N Andy - to understand another era's sense of comedy.

I'd subscribe but I suspect it wouldn't be worth it on dialup.

Comment from: jnspath posted at July 26, 2005 4:16 PM

I'm a huge fan of old-time radio programs and buy them up whenever I can find them. I'm signing up for this immediately.

Comment from: Misha Grin posted at July 26, 2005 4:28 PM

Bwahahahahaha! Doubly funny, considering I've had the quote "T'ain't Funny, McGee!" stuck in my head for over a week now.

In other news, I had a thought a few years back about getting some scripts and VA's together and doing a few radio dramas for online consumption, but never could figure out how to make them available. Podcasting never occurred to me. Might need to consider this...

Comment from: tsuibhne posted at July 26, 2005 4:59 PM

From their FAQ section

"All the shows on RUSC are believed to be in the public domain. In addition the membership fee is a contribution towards hardware costs, server space, bandwidth and general administration, it is not a payment for the shows themselves. There is absolutely no charge, implied or otherwise, for the shows themselves. The shows are made available free of charge to members of RUSC. If you feel you have any claim over the copyright for any of the shows on RUSC please let me know and I will take immediate steps to remove the shows in question."

Are you sure about The Shadow copyrights?

And along similiar lines. Blackmask* has a bunch of shadow pulps in ebook format for download, as well as Doc Savage, The Spider, and a bunch of other books. All for free.

* http://www.blackmask.com/cgi-bin/newlinks/page.cgi?d=1

Comment from: Flower of December posted at July 26, 2005 5:36 PM

Actually, yeah. I just purchased a whole buncha CDs of The Sahdow broadcasts, and the Conde nast copyright is listed on all of them.

What I want to know is where the original online OTR stuff is. Right now I'm in the process of doing a fannish Starshift Crisis audio drama, and I wanted to know if there was a community similar to the webcomicry community I could tap into.

Also you should all check out Starshift Crisis, a part of the Blank Label Press network.

Comment from: KevDude posted at July 26, 2005 5:47 PM

I know of a couple audio dramas online, but I don't know of a full blown community for them. Most likely the best thing for someone to do if they're really in to audio dramas is to register podcastdrama.com or something and start a community by advertising it around.

Comment from: JB Segal posted at July 26, 2005 6:11 PM

6000? What a cute little site. :)

I can't find the site I had marked for "come back when you have a job, but googling '"old time radio" subscribe' found www.otr-ftp-server.com, which seems to have a nice collection...

(The one I'm looking for had something close to complete runs of some of my favorite series.)

Comment from: Ian K. posted at July 26, 2005 7:33 PM

I had a similar bout of beautiful nostalgia last month when I checked some of the old time radio links at live365.com and got to listen to Jack Benny, Bob & Ray, Amos & Andy, as well as the Mercury Theatre on the Air.

It has ads, unfortunately, but it's free.

Comment from: John Bankert posted at July 26, 2005 8:40 PM

Curse your eyes Burns!!!

*scurries off to get The Shadow while the getting's good*

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 26, 2005 10:09 PM

Pretty darn sure. There are certain magazines of the era whose copyrights expired because they didn't maintain the registrations (which you used to have to do). That isn't the case, to my knowledge, with any of the Shadow radio shows.

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 26, 2005 10:10 PM

Mmmmm, radio serials. You know, that's why I loved the whole ilovebees.com thing - not because it was an immersive game, but because it was a revival of some of the old radio play tropes in an excellent, modern way. I've actually been considering trying to do radioplays both on my college station and online for the last couple years... maybe I should get off my butt and do it.

When I was a kid, I had this huge collection of old radio serial tapes, called Suspense - Radio's Outstanding Theater of Thrills. They were awesome, and probably seriously warped my little mind. I remember one episode, a two parter called "Donovan's Brain" in particular... *shudders* Regardless, thanks for the info! I'll probably spend the rest of work surrpetitiously grabbing old serials...

Comment from: Eladria posted at July 26, 2005 10:14 PM

I was browsing the Chicago Tribune's website, and came across this article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/la-me-unabomber26jul26,1,2585005.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Since this was the blurb to convince people to read it, I thought, of course, of Websnark:

"Who would buy the Unabomber's shoes, dishes, typewriter, rambling letters █ or even his copy of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style"? "

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 26, 2005 10:56 PM

Ooh, those are some great old shows. I've listened to some of my dad's "old time radio" serials. What evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Incidentally, the BBC still does radio plays. They do 'em well, too: check out their Lord of the Rings (with Ian Holm playing Frodo█he later played Bilbo in the movies). Or the radio Star Wars, with John Lithgow as the voice of Yoda (is that guy typecast as aliens or what? Yoda, Dr. Emilio Lizardo, guy from Third Rock...)

marlowe: Donovan's Brain is a classic science fiction novel. It's the king of the Evil Disembodied Brain genre.

Comment from: larksilver posted at July 26, 2005 11:34 PM

Oh, good heavens. John Lithgow... Dr. Emilio Lizardo. Now.. Now I have to go find an old copy of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai to bask in its horrible-ness and massively enjoy that performance. Totally freakin' BAD.. and totally funny.

I love the old radio shows, precisely because they're a bit hokey, and because often (as in the case of that Batman Mystery) they show clearly the political and societal leanings of the era in which they appeared. It can be fun to explore just how much things have changed... or NOT, while soaking up the cheeziness with gusto.

And I discovered, having gifted a then boyfriend with a set of old radio variety shows, that Maureen O'Hara first became famous for her singing voice. This revelation certainly spurred other forays, although none quite stunned me so much. She was in several of my favorite films from her day (The Quiet Man is an all-time favorite of mine), and I never knew she could even carry a tune. Although, in retrospect, I suppose I should have, since she sings in Spencer's Mountain.. but I'm dense, apparently. heh.

Thanks for reminding me of that. Must... go.. .listen...

Comment from: kjc posted at July 27, 2005 12:09 AM

If you like radio dramas, may I suggest ZBS? You can find them at www.zbs.org. In particular, I recommend "Ruby The Galactic Gumshoe" and "Jack Flanders."

They're relatively modern - their recordings having been made sometime during their 34 year history - but many are in the style of the old fashioned serials. And they're damn funny.

ZBS is not-for-profit and survives by selling tapes, CDs, and MP3s.

They rock out.

Comment from: Doc posted at July 27, 2005 3:05 AM

Goddamn but I wish the Goon Show was out of copywrite.

Comment from: marlowe posted at July 27, 2005 3:47 AM

gwalla - Awesome! I had no idea it was a novel, also - I just remember the radioplay scaring the crap out of me when I was a kid. *goes to check on that now* Thanks!

And, yeah, the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings radio serials rock. I've lost track of the number of times I've listened to them. It's annoying, though- all my copies are on casette tape, so it looks like I might have to go hunting for CD versions and pay all that money again... Oh well!

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 27, 2005 4:58 AM

Didn't the BBC do a radio version of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy with Douglas Adams in the radio series?

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 27, 2005 5:19 AM

It's late and I've been sick all day, so I might be misremembering, but I believe the Hitchhiker radio shows preceeded the novels.

Comment from: Steven E. Ehrbar posted at July 27, 2005 5:22 AM

Miyaa is hereby deducted fifteen billion geek points, unless being ironic, in which case . . . aw, heck, we're still taking all fifteen billion.

Comment from: Doc posted at July 27, 2005 6:11 AM

The radio show was definitely where the story originated, which Adams translated into the first two books. I think the last three books were made into a radio series more recently which might be where the confusion comes from.

Adams definitely didn't have any role in the original series (besides writing it of course) and I'm fairly sure he wasn't in the later one either.

As usual Wikipedia is your friend.

Comment from: Doc posted at July 27, 2005 6:13 AM

Huh that last sentence was meant to be linking to the wikipedia page on Hitchhikers, does this software not accept a href tags?

Comment from: Arachnid posted at July 27, 2005 6:53 AM

This is ust begging for someone to set up 'old time webradio'. Sure you can subscribe and download them yourself, but there's all sorts of interesting things you discover if you let other people pick. It wouldn't hurt if it was free, either.

Comment from: Doc posted at July 27, 2005 8:24 AM

Actually it seems some people have done it already:


The old time radio webring, this lists sites with various old shows for download as well as people who do streaming, I've only been to a few so far but I should warn you they seem to be in various states of functionality and more than one is an incomprehensible geocities hell-site. I'm still going to slowly sift through them though, turning on my pod and listening to the shadow on the bus is far too worthwhile.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 27, 2005 8:52 AM

Doc -- you didn't close the tag initially. I fixed it.

Comment from: Kludge posted at July 27, 2005 9:17 AM

...and I'm fairly sure he wasn't in the later one either.

But you're slightly wrong there - what Miyaa is referring to is that Adams does appear in the third series - he recording himself doing the lines of Agrajag (the person Arthur keeps killing by accident) before his death.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 27, 2005 10:41 AM

Adams does appear in the third [radio] series - he recording himself doing the lines of Agrajag (the person Arthur keeps killing by accident) before his death.

I remembered that wrong last weekend and kept expecting Arajag to show up as I was watching the movie.

I enjoyed the movie, incidentally, because King Arthur and Dr. Dolittle have taught me to revel in diversity. My wife disliked it because she'd been in the mood for something familiar.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 27, 2005 10:54 AM

Doc: Goddamn but I wish the Goon Show was out of copywrite.


Okay. Am surrounded by Goons fans. Sharing an apartment with a Goons fan. Was raised by a Goons fan.

I don't get it at all. Particularly not the famous Eccles. Can one of you explain the appeal to me? Is it the being Canadian that's doing it?

Comment from: Charles Duffy posted at July 27, 2005 11:55 AM

It's copyRIGHT, not copyWRITE. Please, people -- please!

(If there's one place where a touch of pedantry is unlikely to result in violent opposition, I suppose this is likely to be it).

Comment from: tynic posted at July 27, 2005 12:03 PM

weds: Can one of you explain the appeal to me?

Unfortunately, much like Achewood or Spaced, The Goon Show is one of those things that cannot be explained, merely experienced. Which is to say - if you don't get it, I don't think anyone else can help.

Comment from: Charles Duffy posted at July 27, 2005 12:20 PM

In terms of getting The Shadow while the getting's hot (and otherwise being able to pull a whole series at a time for loading onto a MP3 CD, iPod or like storage) -- I've got an answer for 'yall, but you'll have to be geeks to get to it. :)

I've written some code for downloading an entire series at a time, including the relevant pages for the involved stars and such (so that some later code could then scrape through these pages' HTML and do something useful with it).

A copy is checked into the baz-format Arch archive cduffy@spamcop.net--2005/sitting-comfortably-screen-scraper--1.0 (which doesn't show up quite yet, but will after it updates -- within an hour or so, probably). You can use either GNU Arch (version 1.3.2 or newer) or Bazaar to check out the code, make your own revision-controlled changes (without having write access to my archive -- ain't distributed revision control great?), or whatnot.

Have fun! (And please be respectful of their bandwidth -- I'd hate to be responsible for a trampling).

Comment from: MHPayne posted at July 27, 2005 1:14 PM

The comic I'm doing for the Daily Grind contest is heavily influenced by an old radio show, actually: "I Love a Mystery," written and directed (usually) by Charlton E. Morse. That's some fine serialized storytelling there...


Comment from: Suzanne posted at July 27, 2005 2:38 PM

The only thing that kept me sane when I was couch-bound after breaking my back was Jack Benny. Hours and hours of Jack Benny.

The only thing that would make this site better is if they had Stan Freberg. (Do they have Stan Freberg?? He only did 13 or 14 shows...)


Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 27, 2005 2:53 PM

The comic I'm doing for the Daily Grind contest is heavily influenced by an old radio show, actually: "I Love a Mystery," written and directed (usually) by Charlton E. Morse. That's some fine serialized storytelling there...

The incarnation of I Love a Mystery with which I'm familiar is the tv pilot from the mid-70s produced by Leslie Stevens whose name was known to me because of Search (I dare anyone younger than I to know what that was without looking it up). It starred Les Crane, Hagan Beggs, David Hartman as the wise innocent, and Ida Lupino as the pilot's villain. I hoped to see a series but there never was one.

I'm having a spot of bother with Typekey - I don't think I'm posting this more'n once but I may be wrong.

Comment from: larksilver posted at July 27, 2005 2:59 PM

All this talk of old-time radio shows has brought to mind something. Does anyone remember what the name of the series that WGN (I think) did a few years' back featuring the actors in an old-time radio show? It was fun, and had all the silly drama of the "real thing."

Comment from: MHPayne posted at July 27, 2005 3:20 PM

The TV show about the old radio station was called "Remember WENN." I never watched it, but I've got a lotta things like that rattling around in my head. I think maybe it was on A&E...

As for "I Love a Mystery" on TV, that woulda been interesting. The radio series ran from 1939 till 1954, I think, with a couple years of "hiatus" in there. The tapes I have are from the last series that began in the late '40s on the Mutual Broadcasting System--it's the series that gave Tony Randall his first major role, so I kept hoping someone would do a movie while Randall was still alive so he could be in it.


Comment from: The Matt Who Is posted at July 27, 2005 8:56 PM

"Remember WENN," an American Movie Classics original. The only other thing I can think of that falls into that category was the hilariously brilliant "Roger Corman's The Phantom Eye."

I'm really glad someone already mentioned "Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe." For me, radio serials like "The Adventures of Doc Savage," "What Ho, Jeeves?" and the entirely goofy "Fourth Tower of Inverness" (where, by the end, the actors couldn't stop laughing at their own dialogue) helped make me the geek I am today.

The BBC does something interesting, and broadcasts contemporary novels a page at a time in daily readings. John Le Carre, stuff like that. On the East Coast, it's at around 5am, so I don't hear them anymore. When my schedule sucked more, though, my mornings were also more interesting.

Radio storytelling... what a tremendously fun medium.



Comment from: efrex posted at July 27, 2005 9:14 PM

Another great bit with the classic comedy shows was the musical interludes. Connie Haines on the Abbot & Costello show (and, as of last year, bless her soul, still singing), Dennis Day on the Jack Benny Show, and the assorted orchestras provided my introduction to some of the classics of the American songbook (Duke Ellington, Rogers & Hammerstein, etc.)

Also amazing for this cartoon lover was finding out how many shows Mel Blanc was on. What an insane schedule he had in those days! The Jack Benny Show, Burns & Allen, Amos n' Andy, his own short-lived show... holy smokes!

Also, no discussion about radio is complete without mentioning Stan Freberg's wonderful sketch about how on radio you could drain one of the great lakes, fill it with whipped cream, and have a helicopter drop a 10-ton cherry on top to the cheers of a thousand extras..."now try doing THAT on television!"

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 28, 2005 1:31 AM

larksilver: Buckaroo Banzai is not bad. It's genius.

Weds: Is it the being Canadian that's doing it?

Sort of like booing Earl Hebner?

Comment from: Doc posted at July 28, 2005 5:33 AM

Yeah Weds I'm fairly sure that like most humour trying to explain why its funny would remove quite a chunk of the funny, though I agree about Eccles, not the funniest character, though he sounds almost exactly like goofy sometimes (or vice versa if you like).

I doubt its anything to do with you being canadian though, I'm australian and have never been to england. Though after reading your post it occurred to me that everyone I know who likes the Goon Show is male (I'm going to make myself look like a fool and guess when you said raised by a fan you referred to your father and not your mother) and often the women they co-habit with tend to not get it, this isn't even really a theory just an observation. Any female fans who can prove me wrong please speak up.

Efrex: I love the try that on television gag too, I've always wanted to try and write a stage adaptation of a Goon Show episode but much of the humour involves variations on this sort of joke (whether it's explicit or not), which is both infuriating and a sign of just how great they were (or rather spike milligan was) at working in their medium.

Comment from: Manzabar posted at July 28, 2005 10:43 AM

Another option for getting old radio broadcasts is the Radio Memories Podcast.

Comment from: tynic posted at July 29, 2005 1:12 AM

Any female fans who can prove me wrong please speak up.

Me. My mother. Most of the girls in my family. Quite a few of my friends.

I think making generalisations about humour and gender is probably very dangerous. Far too many exceptions, and you're bound to piss them off.

Comment from: Stephen S. posted at August 2, 2005 6:03 PM

What fun!

I grew up listening to OTR in the evenings before bedtime when I was young, because my local NPR station (WRVO; http://www.wrvo.fm ) would broadcast these shows at night. Eric, you brought back so many good memories (Except for the show "Smiths of Hollywood" Now that's a BAD SHOW (Worse than the Aldrich Family). http://www.originaloldradio.com/smiths_of_hollywood.html )

I prefer this archive: http://www.oldtimeradioprograms.com/ftp/ftp.html

1 GB for $7.90 and a huge archive.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 2, 2005 6:25 PM

WRVO! When I used to work the Sterling Renaissance Festival (the one on the Great Lake, not the one in Sterling Forest just outside the City) I used to drive around in the evenings, listening to WRVO play a block of Suspense, Gunsmoke, and The Lux Radio Theater. There were others, but I don't remember what they were.

Thanks for the memory, sir!

Comment from: The_Prof posted at August 3, 2005 1:21 AM

Our local public radio station's program director still has a taste for old-time radio; he used to do fairly regular Saturday-evening replays of old series (like X-1), still manages to do a show called The Retro Cocktail Hour, and also does a live comedy show calle dRight Between The Ears. Unfortunately, it seems like interest in old-time radio wasn't enough to keep those rebroadcasts on the air. Another live show they did, The Good Time Radio Revue, also died from lack of interest. :( At least they manage to keep some things on the air...

Going to see Right Between the Ears live has a lot of the same 'several people in a room with foley tech' you describe. It's sketch comedy instead of extended stories, but you get to see the actors standing around the mike on-stage with the sound-effects girl cranking away in the background. :) They've got some of the shows archived on the station's website, so you can at least listen to them.

Comment from: myrtle_b [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 4, 2008 11:06 AM

As a big fan of old time radio, I get my daily dose at http://www.OTRCAT.com which has a 'daily download' section. These seem to be updated daily and are episodes broadcast today in year's past - quite a time travel!

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