OTR Tuesday – A (Re)Introduction

Some of the most popular posts here recently seem to have been those dealing with Old Time Radio, so I thought maybe it was time to bring back a regular weekly feature on old radio shows. Back when I first started this blog, a regular feature was Old Time Radio Thursday, so I figured that as a good way to restart the exploration of old radio I’d re-present the introduction that I wrote back in 2013 to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction

No real long-winded introduction today. 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.

 People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and '30s CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer.

People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and ’30s
CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. “Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio.” National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

These shows encompassed many different genres, including drama, adventure, comedy, science fiction, westerns, soap operas, sports… basically it was the television of its day. Before, that is, television (network television at least) became overrun mostly by unreality tv and CSI clones.

So why am I writing about old radio shows on what is ostensibly a blog about movies? Well, two reasons really. First of all, I have an affinity to these shows that dates back to my childhood when my father collected these shows on cassette tapes that he would either purchase or trade with other collectors, and secondly, many of these shows had definite connections to Hollywood. Many of them would simply adapt popular movies for radio audiences, others would feature or even star Hollywood performers.

Anyway, I said I was going to try not to be too long-winded with this introduction, so for now I’m going to stop there, and let the shows begin speaking for themselves. For this first installment, I’m simply going to give you a variety of different shows to help those unfamiliar with the whole concept get a taste of what I’m talking about. Then, in weeks to come, I’ll feature a specific show and talk more about it and its Hollywood connections, and hopefully. over time, some of you will come to enjoy these shows as much as I do.

Plus, who knows, we might even find some connections between these shows and current movies, too. (As a matter of fact, I know we will.)

For now, though, just sit back, relax, maybe close your eyes, and let the magic of radio transport you back to an earlier time…

(By the way, just a quick note… you’ll notice varying quality on some of these recordings. While many of them are taken from transcription records that would be sent to various stations for playing at the appropriate time, others were simply recorded from the actual broadcasts by listeners who had set up (most likely) reel-to-reel tape machines to capture the broadcasts, and it is from those amateur recordings that the only known copies of those shows still exist. Hopefully, however, these quality variences won’t take away too much from your enjoyment of the shows themselves.)

This last one is actually from a later period, and is a show that I actually grew up listening to. Locally it was broadcast at 9pm on our CBS affiliate, so I got to lie in bed and listen to it each weeknight before nodding off to sleep. One of the interesting things about going back and listening to these today is that many of them, this one included, also include the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour of programming, and since this one, for instance, was first broadcast in 1974, the news often included coverage of the developing scandal which would become known as Watergate. Just keep listening through the commercials at the end, and you can hear how radio was reporting the latest news coming from the Nixon White House as more facts were coming to light.

(Oh, and yes, there are some definite movie connections in this story also, as you’ll see. Or should I say, as you’ll hear?)

Well, I hope that’s given you at least a taste of what’s to come as we explore the connections between Old Time Radio and the cinema, and be sure to check back next week as we focus in more closely on one of these great shows. And if you have any particular memories of radio shows, or any favorites, or if any of these caught your attention and you want to hear more, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Classic Television Thursday #017 – A Classic New Year’s Roundup

It’s New Year’s Day, so I figure today is a good day to look back at some of the classic television celebrations from years past. So here are a few television episodes that have to do with the holiday, along with some classic takes on that famous Times Square ball drop that has become a television tradition.

Let’s start with Jack Benny‘s 1956 New Year’s Day show

Before Dick Clark started rocking us into the New Year, the face of the evening was Guy Lombardo. Here’s the earliest example I could find of Guy and his band from 1956 – it doesn’t include the ball drop, but we’ll get there.

And here’s  part of his last appearance, moving from 1975-1977

We’ll get back to the ball drops, but first, here’s a classic Dragnet episode entitled “The Big New Year”

From 1965, here’s some clips from the Tonight Show back when Johnny Carson was the host. It’s not the full show, unfortunately, but it does include the ball drop. Interestingly, it also includes Ed McMahon‘s audience warm-up

One last Carson clip, with Jimmy Stewart sharing a New Year’s resolution

Here’s an episode from Gunsmoke’s second season entitled “Puckett’s New Year”

Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday or not, we’ve still got to pay for this stuff

Here’s an early version of the Rocking New Year’s Eve from 1974 – hosted by George Carlin

Here’s one for the kids: Arthur’s First Sleepover and Arthur’s New Year

Here’s a classic New Year’s episode from the first season of The Lucy Show:

Here’s a collection of ball drops from 1975-2011

And finally, just to wrap things up, here’s the ball drop from last New Year’s Eve

Happy 2015, everyone!



Old Time Radio Thursdays – #014: Gunsmoke (1952-1961)

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.

Yeah, this is the logo from the opening of the TV show, but it was the best image I could find.

Yes, it’s true. US television’s longest running prime time live action drama actually began as a radio show.

Actually, the story behind the creation of Gunsmoke is rather fascinating. Here’s Wikipedia’s version which squares pretty well with the way I’ve heard it told over the years:

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a “Philip Marlowe of the Old West.” Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.

The cast of radio’s Gunsmoke: Howard McNear (Doc), William Conrad (Matt), Georgia Ellis (Kitty) and Parley Baer (Chester)

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called “Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye” based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, “The Crooked Wheel”. Two auditions were created in 1949. The first was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

But there was a complication. Culver’s contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it creating an adult Western series of their own.

MacDonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid.

Marshall Dillon? No, but it is William Conrad in a promotional photo for a later western show that he starred in.

From these converging ideas was born Gunsmoke which was set in Dodge City, Kansas during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. As far as the goal of creating a more “adult” western, the creators definitely succeeded in that, as the show’s characters, themes, and episodes rarely flinched at presenting a much more realistic portrait of life in the “wild west”. This was not a show where Sheriff Dillon would always shoot the gun from the bad guy’s hand then cart them off to the pokey, nor did he always necessarily escape from certain situations unscathed. There was a reason why one of the main characters and one of Matt’s best friends was the town doctor.

Of course, for anyone who grew up with or who knows Gunsmoke only from it’s TV version, squaring William Conrad’s voice with the image of James Arness may take some work, but really this is one of those cases where you have to set aside your preconceived notions and listen to the shows as they unfold. Or perhaps consider this an “alternate universe” version of the show. You know, it’s kind of like when a book is adapted for television or the movies. Just let it be what it is on its own terms.

For those interested in learning more about or hearing more of radio’s version of Gunsmoke, I’d suggest downloading this OTRR (Old Time Radio Researchers group) certified set of shows from the Internet Archives. The set contains all except six episodes, which are not known to exist. It consists of eleven zipped CDs. The first CD contains many bonus materials, including the Tribute Show, the first TV episode, all known Australian episodes, and a lot of other great stuff.

Until next time, Happy Listening!