Old Time Radio Thursdays – #012: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part Three

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

CbsrmtlogoSo for the past couple of weeks we’ve been taking a look at the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (You can find part one here and part two here.)

One aspect I wanted to spend a little more time is the person behind the show, Mr. Himan Brown.

Mr. Brown was born in 1910, and during his 65 active years on the radio he purportedly produced over 30,000 radio shows. Of course, that number includes almost 1400 original episodes of the CBSRMT. Obviously, however, his involvement with radio went far beyond that.

One of the first things listeners to CBSRMT notice is the creaking door which opens and closes the show. (Just as a side note, I’ve always personally thought the closing door especially sounds just like a person moaning, and the voice is shut off by the clack-clack of the lock.) That creaking door motif was actually something that Mr. Brown originated with another of his series, Inner Sanctum Mystery.

Inner Sanctum ran for 562 episodes from 1941 to 1952, and is really the show that Mystery Theater was based on. The two biggest differences between the two being that Inner Sanctum’s episodes were only 30 minutes long, and instead of E.G. Marshall as host, IS at first featured Raymond Johnson who identified himself as “Your host, Raymond”, and later by Paul McGrath who simply identified himself as “Your Host”.

Here’s an episode of Inner Sanctum:

Other radio shows produced, created and/or directed by Himan Brown include The Adventures of the Thin ManBulldog Drummond, City Desk, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, Grand Central Station, Green Valley, USA, The GumpsJoyce Jordan, M.D., Marie, the Little French Princess, The NBC Radio Theater, The Private Files of Rex Saunders and, Terry and the Pirates along with a number of daytime soap operas.

Another aspect of the show that I wanted to touch om very quickly is the music that is heard extensively throughout the episodes. If it seems familiar, there’s a reason for that. Instead of having an in-house band or musician as was often the case during the golden age of radio (when it made sense to have such musicians because they could be used for a variety of different shows throughout the day), Mr. Brown chose to use stock cuts from the CBS library. This goes for most of the sound effects, too, which were often pre-recorded. Even the theme music was taken from another CBS show – it is adapted from the soundtrack of the Twilight Zone episode “Two”.

Himan Brown directs an episode of CBSRMT
Himan Brown directs an episode of CBSRMT

In the first part of this series I wrote about host E.G. Marshall and his relationship with the show and Hollywood, but he was far from the only past or future star who would be featured or make an appearance on the show. As a matter of fact, the first episode starred Agnes Moorehead in a story called “The Old Ones Are Hard To Kill”. As far as other movie/television connections, well, just take a look at this list of people who made appearances in various episodes: Richard Crenna, Joan Hackett, Margaret Hamilton, Casey Kasem, Jerry Orbach, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mandy Patinkin, Kathleen Quinlan, Jerry Stiller, Roy Thinnes, John Lithgow, Mason Adams, Kevin McCarthy, Howard Da Silva, Keir Dullea, Morgan Fairchild, Fred Gwynne, Larry Haines, Kim Hunter, Mercedes McCambridge, Tony Roberts, Alexander Scourby, and Marian Seldes among many, many others.

One final note, which is actually a bit of trivia for my younger readers out there. if you listen to a number of these shows you’ll note that they have the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour cut out from them, and often they are slightly edited or the opening/ending title music cut short so that they will fit into a 45 minute time. Why 45 minutes? Because, since these shows have never had any kind of official release, for the most part these episodes come to us from off-the-air recordings made by fans of the show at the time, and those recordings were often made on home cassette players, and at the time, those cassettes typically came in three standard lengths: 30, 60, or 90 minutes. Now, of course, many fans would use 60 minute cassettes, and those are the source for the more intact shows, but as a cost cutting measure, a lot of people would use 90 minute tapes, manually starting and stopping the recordings as the show would go to and come back from their commercial breaks. That way they could get two shows on one tape. And, of course, doing the math shows that 90 minutes divided by two results in 45 minutes per side. Of course, whatever format they used for recording these shows, we definitely owe a debt of gratitude to these original home-tapers for preserving and passing along this great show for us to enjoy today.

Okay, that’s definitely enough words from me on the subject, so here’s another selection of episodes for you to listen to and enjoy, beginning with the afore-mentioned first episode “The Old Ones Are Hard to Kill”.

Again,for more information on CBSRMT as it’s popularly known, including a complete episode guide to the series along with streaming episodes and downloads, one good place to begin is here. And be sure to let me know below about your own thoughts on the show, and other shows you’d like to see featured here.

4 thoughts on “Old Time Radio Thursdays – #012: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part Three

    1. Yeah, Inner Sanctum was really a great show, and one I’ll get around to writing more about eventually. As far as how you remember these shows, well, they do make an impact, especially the creaking door. Plus, they have been re-run from time to time on various outlets. As a matter of fact, NPR even did a fairly short re-run of the CBSRMT a number of years back.

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