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).
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.
Masked 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 “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 cake. Templar costumes optional, but encouraged.
Dark 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? Holiday 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 Talk, A 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!
who wonders if Sgt. Preston of the Yukon would freak out the cats…