Radio, Radio!

Back in the day, before Philo T. Farnsworth turned the world upside down with tiny television tubes, the radio was the family’s home entertainment center. Although I’d always been aware of classic radio content, it wasn’t until my husband starting bringing home records–yes, actual LPs–featuring the Marx Brothers, Nick Carter, and Captain Midnight that I could fully appreciate what the radio experience must have been like for my parents and grandparents. Snuggling up on the couch, paying rapt attention to the adventures of the Green Hornet, is very different from watching a television show or film; while I’m certainly not giving up my favorite visual programs anytime soon, there’s definitely a thrill in using my imagination to fill in the blanks TV usually provides.

Enjoying the classic records led us to Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time, a blisteringly funny serial tribute to the days of yore, written and performed by local talent. Dodge Intrepid features a time-traveling librarian trying to prevent a very special book from falling into the hands of an evil industrialist out to bend history to his will. With the help of his hyperactive sidekick, Pluck Gumption, Intrepid (a moniker second only to Ford Prefect for sheer amusement value) manages to save the day again and again. If you missed their live performance last weekend at Arcade Comedy Theater, fret not: you can check out the Dodge Intrepid podcasts and catch up with every last wonderful faux advertisement and Pittsburgh reference (trust me–these guys did their homework).

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m now officially hooked on the radio experience. Luckily, there are plenty of fun shows for me to explore, and possibly plan parties around. Observe.

maskedmarvelsMasked Marvels, a compilation of programs featuring identity-hiding heroes like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, sounds like a great introduction to the superhero genre. Obviously you’d ask your guests to show up wearing creative facial disguises. Just to up the ante, though, don’t tell anyone what kind of snacks you’re serving, and make sure you hide all the food under opaque platters. While you’re at it, peel all the labels off of whatever beverages you’re serving, and keep the lights very, very low.

The Saint Solves the Case is a 10-disc collection of digitally remastered episodes in which the notorious crime-solver Simon Templar saint“keeps company with corpses, amnesiacs, publishers, gamblers, and a monkey.” Crime-fighting and a monkey? The party decorations practically plan themselves. You should also definitely serve either angel food cake or devil’s food cupcakes (for the irony!) and listen to one disc at a time, so you have an excuse to have ten parties with monkeys and cakeTemplar costumes optional, but encouraged.

darkfantasyDark Fantasy: Adventures in the Supernatural is the perfect pick for a Halloween gathering. Instead of braving the cold, hoping your neighbors bought the good candy this year, why not stay toasty warm in your own haunted mansion and let these classic horror broadcasts scare you silly? In keeping with the “dark” theme, make sure you serve chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with perhaps a bit of chocolate for variety. Dress as your favorite mad scientist.

In the same vein, Christmas Radio Classics would be a fun way to put a new spin on the midwinter celebration, don’t you think? christmas_radioHoliday episodes of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and their ilk are the perfect soundtrack to a vintage Christmas party. Shake up some classic cocktails, bake a lot of treats, and turn the speakers up high. You can make your own Christmas ornaments while you listen, or try your hand at crafting some homemade gifts. Speaking in period slang is optional, but make sure to wear your ugliest sweater!

Too silly? Probably, but a lot of the classic material can strike contemporary ears as pretty funny, whether or not that was the intention. If you’re not ready for this particular jump in the WABAC machine, you can test-drive more contemporary radio fare, like Car TalkA Prairie Home Companion, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, or Bob and Ray, to name just a few. A catalog search for radio programs will give you more than enough options to get started.

Were you raised on radio, or did video kill the radio star? We’d love to know!

Leigh Anne

who wonders if  Sgt. Preston of the Yukon would freak out the cats…

24 Comments

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24 responses to “Radio, Radio!

  1. Greg

    I was raised on television, but I’ve loved radio programs for years. I think I first started listening to them when I was living in Gainesville, Florida. The local NPR affiliate had a weekly program that was nothing but rebroadcasts of old-time radio, and I’d sit there with the lights turned down listening to it every week.

  2. Eleanor "Serene" Mendicino

    We used to have a cottage with no TV. One night I was up late on the couch, warmed by the fire, listening to oldies on the radio, and I was transported back to what it must have been like in former times — it was a sweet and strange moment. When I was young, I read a lot of Leslie Charteris’ books about The Saint. He was my fantasy hero. I took some on vacation with me one summer and my aunt tried to steer me to something less “religious.” She obviously did not know the books! Radio was the early precurser of books on tape lol

  3. Sheila

    Back in the late 1990s AMC (american movie classics channel) had a comedy series on called Remember WENN. It was set at a radio station in Pittsburgh that was producing radio programs such as you describe above. It was hysterically funny and poignant – an early “dramedy”. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115333/ Musician Rupert Holmes was the mastermind and the cast of familiar looking – but far from famous – actors and the sound effects and music all combined to a memorable series. Wish it were on dvd so I could watch it all over again.

  4. Linda

    When I was a young tween (though that term was not in vogue at the time) I liked to listen to episodes of The Shadow on the radio. Using my imagination probably created scarier visions than anything that viewing on TV could provide. Also, when my husband and I were first married we had no TV and our Saturday entertainment would be listening to the Dr. Demento radio show for all the wonderfully wacky songs.

  5. Sarah Louise

    I was raised on radio. Living overseas where TV was sparse and in different languages, the radio was my outlet to the outside world, musically. It wasn’t until college that I discovered a Prairie Home Companion, but LURVE. And because of a late night radio show called Music Americana in Washington, D.C., when I arrived in Pittsburgh, I knew who Shawn Colvin was before the DJ’s at WYEP’s Contemporary Folk segments did.

    Oh, I could write about this for days. Oh, and I taped the radio. I still have those tapes.

    I remember in high school discovering NPR, on Emily Dickinson’s birthday.

    And when all the cool kids listened to CDs, I still listened to radio.

  6. Senior Citizen Librarian

    This post brings back childhood memories. I didn’t have a TV until I was 11, so entertainment before then was radio, which I really enjoyed. (Of course books came first.)

    One of my favorite programs was Jack Benny. It never occurred to me that the actors had bodies with faces. I don’t know why, but I was astonished when I finally saw them on TV. I had no expectations of what they would look
    like, but I didn’t expect what I saw.

    Another favorite program was Baby Snooks. One day I turned on the radio for the program and an announcer said that the star, Fanny Brice, had died that day so there would be no show that day or forever more.

    • Oh wow – thank you for the front-line reminiscences! I noticed Baby Snooks in the catalog, and will have to try out the show.

      Thanks, too, for reading and commenting!

      Leigh Anne

  7. I am a huge fan of Old Time Radio programs, and have close to 2000 of them in my collection. I’ve always said that the graphics were always better on radio than ever they were on TV.

    Oh, checked in on Dodge Intrepid, but I’m sorry to say I checked out again quickly, finding the work poorly written and very poorly acted. If you want to try some really excellent modern day “radio” stuff, check out ZBS for Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe and Jack Flanders, or Garrison Keillor’s “Guy Noir”, really great stuff all around!

  8. ZZMike

    My favorite source for OTR (Old Time Radio) is http://www.otrcat.com/ “Old Time Radio Catalog”. If it was on radio, they’ve got it – even some British shows (and a South African production of “The Avengers”. Their website has a free program download every day or so.

    The best part is: They sell series of programs by the CD. Each CD Holds 20 or so (half-hour) programs, and costs $5 plus shipping (I forget how much). The shows are in mp3 format, so you ‘ll need to copy them to your PC or iPad. (They’ve recently started adding shows on audio disk, that will play on any CD player.)

    Not only that, but with every order, you get a sample CD, with a cross section of all their catalog (there are 9 sample CDs).

    I remember growing up listening to “The Lone Ranger”, “The Six-Shooter”, “Have Gun, Will Travel” and even “Gunsmoke” before it moved to TV. William Conrad was the radio Marshal Dillon, and had the perfect voice. Unfortunately, he didn’t LOOK like Marshall Dillon, so they hired James Arness for the TV series (which ran for almost forever).

    The Red Skelton show was another favorite, He has a segment called “The Mean Little Kid”, who was always getting into trouble, In one series of shows, he trapped the Devil in his closet. (I forget how that worked out).

    Anyway, check the OTR website and see how many old shows you remember.

    PS: “Lum and Abner” and “Vic and Sade”. Every memory brings back a few new shows. If I don’t stop here, I”ll go on all night……

  9. Several years ago, back home in Detroit, the AM oldies station used to have a program called “When Radio Was” every night at 10pm, where they would re-broadcast 2 30-minute old radio shows. My favorite hands down was The Great Gildersleeve. It was so funny!

    • Oooh, I’ll have to look into that one – thanks Maria! The program sounds like it was wonderful.

      Leigh Anne

    • Don

      Maria:

      Locally KQV broadcasts this syndicated show on the Sunday overnight from 12 am to 5 am. Here’s the schedule for next Sunday night April 7th

      Sunday, April 07, 2013

      When Radio Was
      12:00:00 AM – 1:00:00 AM
      Our Miss Brooks
      “Cafeteria Boycott (Arden Awarded” Burns & Allen
      Guest: Harpo Marx Pt 1

      When Radio Was
      1:00:00 AM – 2:00:00 AM
      The Aldrich Family
      “Dinner Date With Kathleen” The Charlie McCarthy Show
      Guests: Geddes, Vallee, & Murray Pt 1

      When Radio Was
      2:00:00 AM – 3:00:00 AM
      The Charlie McCarthy Show
      Guests: Geddes, Vallee, & Murra Pt 2 Broadway Is My Beat
      Thomas Hart

      When Radio Was
      3:00:00 AM – 4:00:00 AM
      The Whistler
      “Meet Mr. Death” Mary Foster, Editor’s Daughter
      “Kelsey Upsets Ida # 2392″

      When Radio Was
      4:00:00 AM – 5:00:00 AM
      Dimension X
      “Professor Was a Thief” Vic & Sade
      “Speaking Acquaintances”

      Don

    • ZZMike

      I remember Gildersleeve, too. Here in the Los Angeles area, KFI (now talk radio) used to have two half-hour OTR shows on at 9 pm. They stopped that 15 or so years ago. I remember mostly “Dragnet” and “The Six-Shooter”. (Do you know that there were two Gildersleeves? They both had almost exactly the same voice (I sure couldn’t tell the difference. One played the role for the first years, then the other one took over.)

  10. Mary

    I am also a fan of serial radio broadcasts! My favorite modern incarnation is called “Wormwood: a Serialized Mystery”. Horror/noir/action/adventure! Worth a listen.

  11. 1930s and 40s

    I love old time radio-my parents remember listening to the Green Hornet, Our Miss Brooks, Phil Harris, and all the rest. I still think there’s nothing like Suspense or Lights Out for great, great mystery and setting a Halloween mood. I found a site: http://archive.org/browse.php?field=subject&mediatype=audio&collection=radioprograms that has episodes of tons of radio shows and all public domain.
    It’s a shame Pittsburgh doesn’t have a radio station that plays otr at a decent time. But an Ohio radio station, WMKV, broadcasts old radio shows on Saturday nights and The Whistler and Suspense M-F at 7 pm. You can listen to an internet stream on their website. There’s a number of online old time radio stations, just search around. Also blogs and websites about Suspense and Escape, Our Miss Brooks, and the Great Gildersleeve. Those were the days!

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