Old Time Radio Thursdays – #035: The Variety Show

 

Photograph of a young girl listening to the ra...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.

I’d really thought about skipping this week’s OTR Thursday, while I’m working on a couple of different ideas for future posts and also trying out some new ideas that will hopefully lead to more Old Time Radio related content from me, if not here then elsewhere, in the near future. Stay tuned for further details.

Anyway, insted of simply leaving you guys high and dry this week, I decided to throw together a few shows that feature an aspect of the Golden Age of Radio that I haven’t spent much time focusing on yet: music and variety shows. I will be doing more with these in the future, but for now, here’s a quick six pack of shows for your listening pleasure.

Until next time, as always, Happy Listening!

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #034: Screen Guild Theater (1939-1952)

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.

sgt1The Screen Guild Theater was one of those oddities of Old Time Radio that actually had a number of different “official” titles during its run, mostly based on its current sponsor, and was heard on different networks at various times throughout its very long run.

It started out as The Gulf Screen Guild Show, then over the years morphed into The Gulf Screen Guild Theater, The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater and The Camel Screen Guild Theater.

The show began its run on January 8, 1939 on the CBS network,  where it was a fixture until June 28, 1948. It was then picked up by NBC which began airing episodes on October 7, 1948, lasting until June 29, 1950. ABC was next to pick up the show, and it ran on that network from September 7, 1950 to May 31, 1951. Then finally it returned to CBS on March 13, 1952, where it lasted until the end of its run on June 29, 1952

sgt3Taken together, over the many years, networks, and incarnations, it amassed a total of 527 episodes, and despite those changes, the format of the show basically remained the same. It was an anthology series which brought in leading Hollywood actors to star in adaptations of then-popular motion pictures. Among those appearing on the show over the years were: Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ethel Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead, Humphrey Bogart, Lionel Barrymore, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Nelson Eddy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, and Dinah Shore.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the show was that the actors appearing on it would actually pass up taking the usual paycheck they would typically receive for making such an appearance, and instead, the money would be donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, which supported the creation and maintenance of the Motion Picture Country Home for retired actors.

Great actors appearing on a great show recreating great movies for  great cause. No wonder it was able to last so long.

The following videos each compiles three episodes into one block, so they should give you a good taste of the show:

By the way: those interested in a complete listing of all of the shows featured in the series, and the stars that appeared can find one here.

Until next time, as always, Happy Listening!

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #033: Mystery In The Air (1947)

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.

mystery-in-the-air-advertisementI’ve always found Peter Lorre to be a very intriguing actor. Both visually and vocally, he is very distinctive, and yet he always seems to somehow subsume himself into the roles he is playing. He also has a very interesting ability to shift the tone of the character he is playing with a seeming ease that is actually quite skillful which allows him to move from, say weaselly to menacing as quickly as an eye blink.

That’s why I was very interested and intrigued when I found out that he was, at one time, featured in his own old time radio show, Mystery in the Air.

The show was a summer replacement series which ran for 13 episodes in 1947. Unfortunately, of those 13, only seven apparently survive today. Nonetheless, those surviving episodes really provide some wonderful listening, as Lorre really sinks his teeth into the roles, and listening to these, for me at least, really makes it seem a shame that the rest are seemingly lost forever, and  that the series did not last longer.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about them, preferring instead to simply give you a chance to listen for yourselves. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to find three available for embedding below, but all seven appear to be available for download at the wonderful Internet Archive if you want to listen to the others.

Until next time, as always, Happy Listening!

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #032: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

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.

350px-Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit2Television series – at least here in the U.S. – generally come in two flavors: the continuing series (those that simply go on and on for years with no real end in sight until either flagging ratings or the personnel involved decide it’s time to shut down shop) or miniseries that tend to last for a relatively short duration – usually at most 13 episodes – and have a single story to tell. Of course, the former is more popular that the latter, at least as far as network television goes, because, after all, if they can come up with a popular property, why not flog that beast until it just can’t run any more.

What we don’t tend to see much of is something that kind of falls in the middle.

Back when I was growing up, there were usually two television seasons each year. Generally speaking, you would have the fall season, which is when the networks would begin airing their new shows for the year, and they would generally run for somewhere between 22 to 26 episodes (the shorter episode count would often be used so that the networks could air pre-planned holiday specials and that kind of thing) and then what we called “rerun season” where the networks would basically do exactly that: air re-runs of the series that had just aired so that those who missed them the first time around could catch up on what they had missed. This was, of course, before the advent of home recording devices and all of the rest of the innovations that changed the way Americans watched TV and led to the programming mish-mash that we have today where you never really know when the next new episode of your favorite show might air.

392px-Jekyll_and_Hyde_TitleSo what were the “seasons” like during the era of old-time radio? Actually, they, too, tended to be fairly consistent. Many shows, especially during the “live” era of radio would actually produce 52 shows per year, one each week, because the radio stations and/or networks wanted people to know that at a certain time – say 7pm on a Sunday evening – they could tune in and The Jack Benny Program would be on the air. Of course, this also meant that they ran the risk of “burning out” their performers if they never could get time away from producing the shows. The solution to this often led to what was known as the summer replacement series, which would generally run for 13 episodes (basically three months) in order to give those performers (and all the behind the scenes people such as writers and directors) a chance for an extended break. Those summer shows might be ideas that the networks wanted to try out – perhaps a different comedian would be given Jack’s slot in order to see how well they could carry a show of their own – or they might be what we would today consider extended mini-series that would tell a single story over that 13 week period.

Anyway, that’s how it tended to be during the era when most radio shows aired live. However, later came what became known as transcription series. These were series that would be pre-recorded and then could be sent to the various radio stations. Usually, these were still produced on a weekly basis, but sometimes a producer would go ahead and record, say, an entire 13 episode series and just ship then to the stations all at one time. This, of course, was incredibly convenient for the producers, because it meant that they didn’t have to re-assemble their entire cast each week, but could instead record a number of episodes in a few days, and it was good for the stations because they didn’t have to worry about whether the recorded programs would arrive on time, nor were they dependent upon the at times sketchy transmission systems which would deliver the programs to them.

Rsl1Okay, I’m kind of digressing here, but there is a point to all of this. As you might suspect, much like television today, most of the shows that aired year-round new episodes were just that – episodic. In other words, it really didn’t matter whether you had tuned in for last week’s show or not, because there wasn’t a continuing story-line to be followed. And those shows that did have an over-arching plot would be the ones that would only run for thirteen or so episodes.

What was much more rare, just as it is today, was the series that would stretch that format – that would take one story with a complete beginning, middle, and end – and stretch it out for listeners to need to follow for an extended period of time. The best comparison I can think of at the moment would be something like “24”.

So imagine what it would be like to take a finite story, oh, say, something like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and turn it into a year-long series with a total of 52 episodes. Well, that’s exactly what Australian radio producer George Edwards did.

Edwards, an Australian radio producer and actor, undertook the project in 1932. Since he was, at that point, able to transcribe his series, he was also able to produce a year’s-worth of programming in just a few weeks, and then sell it to radio stations who were eager to have a known, consistent product that they could broadcast for an entire year in the same time slot. At the same time, since each episode was only 15 minutes long, if the radio station could get one or two (usually local) sponsors to commit to advertize on the show for the  entire run, it was a very low-risk proposition for them.

Jekyll-mansfieldAnother plus for the show is that Jekyll was a very hot property at the time, as there were a number of film and stage adaptations that were taking advantage of newly developed special effects to explore the possibilities inherent in the story of a man who transforms into an evil version of himself. Of course, this transformation was even easier on the radio, because instead of having to change his entire look, the actor merely had to change his voice.

And for Edwards, a man commonly known as “The man of 1000 voices”, this would prove easy (and at the same time very effective) indeed.

Obviously, with a running time over 11 hours total, this adaptation is, at times a bit stretched, and it does bring in characters and episodes that were not part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel or were only hinted at or talked about in the printed version. Nonetheless, it does work very well as a series, and proves to be quite entertaining

Thanks to YouTuber “TonightOnTheRadio”, I’ve been able to compile a series of four playlists which will allow you to listen to the entire run of the show, except for episode 15, which appears to perhaps be a missing episode.

UPDATE 3/4/14: Unfortunately, it appears that the original videos from which I had made those playlists have either been taken down or moved. I am currently searching for replacements so that you can listen to the entire thing. In the meantime, however, thanks to a different uploader, “MrJsc1996”, I have been able to compile one playlist containing the first 13 episodes of the series. If, for some reason, you find that this (or any of the other episodes in any of my other OTR Thursday posting) do not work for you, please let me know in the comments, and I will do my best to find replacements for them. Thanks, and again, happy listening!

Here, by the way, is the cast list for these episodes.

Warren Barry … Hugh Hanyon
Bruce Beeby … John Farley
Lloyd Berrell … Mr Jekyll
Dunrich Brenda … Thirza Cox
George Edwards … Hyde, Jekyll, Poole, Franz
Hazel Hollander … Margaret Utterson
Richard Parry … Mr Trelawny
Bebe Scott … Sam
Nell Sterling … Hetty Wilson, Nurse Poole
Vernon Lou Vernon … Mr Litterton

Next time: Inspired by Tuesday’s post on the film Casablanca, we’ll take a look at a show hosted by and featuring one of that film’s stars. But it’s probably not one you’d expect.

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #031: Destination Freedom (1948 – 1950)

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.

Destination FreedomSince February has been designated Black History Month, I thought it might be interesting to take a look today at an OTR show that was dedicated to exploring various people and aspects of African-American History, Destination Freedom. The show ran from 1948 to 1950, and… well, rather than reinvent the wheel, as it were, here’s information on the show from the great Times Past Old Times Radio website:

Richard Durham created Destination Freedom, a groundbreaking radio series that dramatized the struggle for civil rights in America. Destination Freedom aired on WMAQ, a Chicago radio station, on Sunday mornings from 1948 to 1950.

The premier of Destination Freedom on June 27, 1948 signaled a landmark in African American broadcasting history. Drawing on the talents of young intellectuals and entertainers including Oscar Brown Jr., Studs Terkel, Janice Kingslow, Wezlyn Tilden, Fred Pinkard and Vernon Jarrett, Durham developed scripts that captured the lives and struggles of everyday men and women as well as prominent African Americans. Unlike the typical radio fare of its time, Destination Freedom featured social dramas that eloquently appealed for racial justice. As Durham explained, “the real-life story of a single Negro in Alabama walking into a voting booth across a Ku Klux Klan line has more drama and world implications than all the stereotypes Hollywood or radio can turn out in a thousand years.” In striking contrast to the hackneyed images of blacks and as a remedy to the gross underrepresentation of blacks in radio production, Durham cast black actors in leading roles and told the stories of activists and leaders including Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Mary Church Terrell; writers and artists including Richard Wright, Katherine Dunham and Gwendolyn Brooks and cultural legends such as Stackalee and John Henry.

Richard Durham, the creator of Destination Freedom
Richard Durham, the creator of Destination Freedom

Hours of careful research at the George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library with Vivian Harsh’s assistance, close readings of autobiographies, monographs and speeches and skilled scriptwriting brought these historical and contemporary figures to life in poignant detail on Destination Freedom. Certain of the redemptive power of black history and education, Durham went beyond recounting the biographies of these figures and focused on the ways that they overcame racial injustice through resistance. Durham challenged network protocols to ensure that the series featured black women as equally important, history-making figures. The series lacked a sponsor for most of the time it aired on WMAQ, but by relying on his earlier connections, Durham persuaded the Chicago Defender to fund the first weeks of the broadcast and the Urban League sponsored several broadcasts in 1950. Despite Durham’s efforts to exercise authorial control over the series, WMAQ edited, controlled final script approval and rejected the more controversial stories of the lives of Nat Turner and Paul Robeson. Despite these conflicts, the station recognized the import and the success of the show when in 1949, it won a prestigious first-place award from the Institute for Education by Radio. On the anniversary of its first episode, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson commended the program for its efforts in increasing racial tolerance and in educating the public on the contributions of African Americans. Despite these accolades, WMAQ canceled Destination Freedom in 1950, just as the rising tide of anti-Communist conservatism began to adversely affect radio and the arts.

There’s really not much to add to that, so I’ll simply leave you today with some episodes of the show to check out for yourselves.

Next time: It’s Good versus Evil all in one man as we look at a fifty-two (yes, fifty-two) episode adaptation of…

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #030: The Story Lady (1945)

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.

So after spending the past four weeks looking at the Adventures of Superman radio show, I figured it was time for something different. Well, you don’t get much different than The Story Lady.

actor_3158Unfortunately, I really haven’t been able to dig up a whole lot of information on these irreverent shorts, except that they were produced in 1945 and starred Joan Gerber as The Story Lady and Byron Kane as The Announcer, who pretty much always got the last word. Gerber was born in 1935 and died in 2011 and had a number of notable voice-over roles both on the radio and in cartoons

Taking their basis from popular children’s stories, these shows would give them very… interesting twists, some of which seem quite surprising even today, and even more so for the era in which they were originally broadcast.

I do feel like I should give a bit of a warning that while there’s not particularly anything NSFW about these little tidbits, at the same time, they were aimed at adults and not made for very small children, as one might think, so you might want to keep that in mind as you are listening.

So, with that out of the way, let’s tune in and see what The Story Lady has in store for us today, shall we?

UPDATE: Unfortunately, it appears that in the few days since I originally prepared this post and today, the Story Lady videos I had featured have been removed by the original poster. I’m looking now for replacements, but in the meantime, here’s at least one link that does seem to be working, and you can always find more episodes at the Internet Archives link below.

UPDATE 2: Okay, I was able to find some replacement samples, and hopefully these will remain available. Apparently the ones I had originally linked to had been moved to a new YouTube channel. Some of my favorites are unfortunately still among the missing, but still, these will give you a good taste of what the series was like, so enjoy!

This really is just a small sampling of the series, and there are lots more out there. As always, I’d suggest beginning your search at The Internet Archives.

Next time: Since February is Black History Month, we’ll take a look at how old-time radio depicted the fight for African-American civil rights with the 1948-1950 series Destination Freedom.

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #029: The Adventures of Superman (1940-1951) Part Four

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.

This is the fourth (and last for now) part of my look back at the Adventures of Superman radio show. Part one can be found here, part two here, and part three here.

superman-sponsored-radio-showLast week, I noted that the first real team up of Superman and Batman didn’t occur in the pages of a comic book, but on the radio show. However, that wasn’t the only notable “first” that happened on radio and then became a part of comic book lore. Would you believe that the first appearance of Kryptonite also took place on the radio? Yep, it’s true. The rocky fragments of Kal-El’s home planet first hit the Earth in a serial called “The Meteor From Krypton” which aired in June, 1943. It wasn’t until six years later, in 1949 that Kryptonite managed to work its way into the comics!

Here are some other notable facts about the radio show:

At first, Superman operated in secret, trying not to let others know that he even existed. So who was the first of the regular cast to actually meet him? None other than Jimmy Olsen, and that meeting didn’t occur until the show had been airing for seven months!

(Oh, and Jimmy was also a creation of the radio show, first appearing in April of 1940, and not making his comics debut until 1941.)

supThere were actually three different actresses who played Lois Lane on the radio: Rollie Bester, who first appeared in episode 7 and only played the role for two weeks; Helen Choate, who took over the role for the next two months; and finally Joan Alexander, who would portray the character for the rest of the series’ run.

The series was actually cancelled by the Mutual Broadcasting network in March of 1942. However, the network was so besieged by letters from fans that they eventually brought it back in August of that year.

Okay, that’s enough of the “fun facts”. Let’s get on to why we’re really here and just sit back and give a listen to some of the radio shows, shall we? Back in part one I gave you the first ten episodes to check out, so I thought this time I’d follow them up with the next ten. So here you go:

Finally, a bit of an extra: from the 2007 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland here’s Author Michael Hayde with a presentation concerning the radio show. The audio is not the greatest, but here you go anyway.

Next time: Something completely different! And yeah, i really mean different.

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #028: The Adventures of Superman (1940-1951) Part Three: Superman Gets A Superfriend

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.

This is the third part of my look back at the Adventures of Superman radio show. Part one can be found here, and part two here.

WorldsBestSupermanbatmanSo next year we’re supposed to get a new Supermaan/Batman movie. If you’re anything like me, your feelings about this are probably somewhat mixed, because although I completely hated last year’s Man of Steel and the way that the character was portrayed in it, I’m still willing to give the next one a chance. And I’m actually curious about the choice of Ben Affleck as Batman. I’m not that excited about Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, as she strikes me as too frail-seeming to convincingly portray the Amazonian warrior, but again, I’ll certainly be happy to be proven wrong about her, since it seems Warners has actually signed her for a three-picture deal.

Of course, one of the things that has comics and superhero fans alike both curious and salivating is the expected fight between the two main heroes that will surely take place. After all, isn’t that how these things always work? The two characters cross paths and for some reason have to have a knock-down brawl before realizing they’re both fighting a common enemy and them they team up to fight the foe that neither one of them could take on alone? Or at least there’s usually some variation on that., and it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of manipulations the movie takes to make what should really be a flick-of-the-finger win for Supes into something that lasts longer than that.

Anyway, long time comics fans will know that the relationship between Superman and Batman has taken a number of turns throughout the history of the two characters, depending on the varied times and the interpretations of the two characters. They have been best buddies, rivals, enemies, partners, just about any combination that two guys could be. (Well, except for lovers, at least in the official canon, though there is, of course, no end of slash fiction out there speculating on that pairing also, and even the comics pages have seen it in analogues of the two.)

burnley_jackBut the question for today is, when did the two first team up to solve a mystery? Well, since the question is being asked here, the answer is kind of obvious, but may also be rather surprising. That’s right, the first time that Superman and Batman came together as a team was on the radio. While the pair had appeared together on a number of symbolic comic book covers and in a brief cameo in a 1941 issue of All Star Comics, it was on the September 10, 1945 broadcast of the Adventures of Superman radio show that the duo actually met each other and had their first true team-up.

The story actually began five days earlier, on September 5th, with Superman coming to the rescue of an unconscious boy adrift in a rowboat. Quickly noting that the boy was wearing a red vest with the letter “R” under his street clothes. “Great Scott! If this boy is who I think it is,” Superman said to himself, “this is serious business!” And sure enough, the boy turned out to be… well, why not give a listen to the episodes as they played out over the next few days? Again, I’ve created a playlist which should allow you to listen to the episodes one after the other.

After this initial meeting, Batman would go on over the years to appear in some thirteen different radio serials, during which they would become fast friends, even substituting at times for one another or helping one another keep or conceal their secret identities, much as the duo would come to be portrayed in the comics. Just for fun, here’s another of the serials featuring the duo, entitled “Batman’s Greatest Mystery”. (I do have to be honest here, though, and admit that the real mystery in this one is why Batman ever thought it was a good idea to trust Clark Kent with his secret identity, since it seems like he is constantly blabbing about it to everyone who will listen. Of course, Alfred is no better than Clark in that department here, so… nonetheless, it’s still a fun listen:

One last, quick note: I find it interesting that although Superman enjoyed a very long run during the golden age of radio, Batman never did have a successful show of his own. There was one pilot program made, though, under the title Batman’s Mystery Club, and actually, if you give it a listen, well, perhaps we should all be thankful that this version at least, was never picked up.

Next time: The final part (for now at least) of our look back at the Adventures of Superman radio show, and at least one more probably surprising first appearance that occurred on the show before it hit comic pages.

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #027: The Adventures of Superman (1940-1951) Part Two: Superman Takes On The KKK

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.

supermanSo last week I started writing about the Adventures of Superman radio show, and I had planned to spend this week talking about some of the surprising things that came out of the show and became canon in the Superman mythos. I still plan to do that post, but I think I’ll put it off for a couple of weeks, because this week, since we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, it seemed appropriate to highlight this particular series of episodes.

Here’s a bit of background and information on this particular serial courtesy of Wikipedia:

The series delivered a powerful blow against the Ku Klux Klan’s prospects in the northern USA. The human rights activist Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the KKK and other racist/terrorist groups. Concerned that the organization had links to the government and police forces, Kennedy decided to use his findings to strike at the Klan in a different way. He contacted the Superman producers and proposed a story where the superhero battles the Klan. Looking for new villains, the producers eagerly agreed. To that end, he provided information—including secret codewords and details of Klan rituals—to the writers. The result was a series of episodes, “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” in which Superman took on the Klan. Kennedy intended to strip away the Klan’s mystique. The trivialization of the Klan’s rituals and codewords was perceived to have had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.

Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings, and the food company stood by its support of the show.

“The Clan of the Fiery Cross” ran for sixteen episodes, from June 10, 1946 to July 1, 1946, and thanks to YouTuber “cstevengomez” who originally uploaded these videos, I’ve embedded them all in this playlist which should allow you to listen to them one after the other.

Next time: More of the radio Adventures of Superman, as Superman makes a couple of new (super)friends.

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Old Time Radio Thursdays – #026: The Adventures of Superman (1940-1951) Part One

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.

Superman-Ad-1-tbOne of the biggest genres of movies for the past few years and continuing into the foreseeable future is the superhero movie. The genre is obviously completely big-screen ready now that computer generated effects have finally gotten to the point that creators can actually put believable larger-than-life epics such as these characters call for on the screen.

Of course, that’s where radio had a very early advantage. Because it used listeners’ own imaginations and because it only required sound effects rather than convincing visual ones to bring these characters to life, radio shows could, early on, give us the adventures of these characters in a way that movies and television really couldn’t, and in a way that only the comic book page, with the only limit there being the imagination of the writers and artists, could rival.

So it really should be no surprise that one of the longest running radio shows was The Adventures of Superman, which aired in varying formats and on various networks for over eleven years and more than 2000 episodes, with its first broadcast taking place on February 12, 1940 when it debuted on New York’s WOR radio station as a syndicated series of 15 minute episodes designed to run each afternoon through the week as part of a block of “children’s programming”.

Like the character’s initial debut in Action Comics, the radio show presented Superman’s origin very quickly, getting it out of the way and getting to his -and alter ego Clark Kent’s – status quo in the first couple of episodes, and then bringing on the… umm… action.

So what did those initial episodes sound like? How did those comic page adventures translate to the radio? Well, let’s take a listen, shall we? Here, thanks to a YouTuber going by the handle Devsguy, are the first ten episodes of (as taken from the introduction to the first episode) this

championofopprosssednew and exciting radio program featuring the thrilling adventures of an amazing and incredible personality!

Faster than an Airplane!

More powerful than a locomotive!

Impervious to bullets!

Up in the sky! Look!

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

It’s Superman!

Next time: More on the radio Adventures of Superman, including some facts about the show and the innovations that it brought to the character that may surprise you!

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