OTR Tuesday – The Whistler (1942-1955)

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. OTR  Tuesday 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…am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes… I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!

That (with minor variations) was the introduction for each week’s episode of The Whistler, which I have always thought to be one of the more unique programs of the OTR period. While it was ostensibly a simple crime/mystery anthology, what made it stand out was its use of second-person narration to set the scene and in its wrap-up.

The main character, the only continuing one, is known only as “The Whistler”, and we are never given any kind of backstory on him, nor do we need any. Each episode begins with a whistled melody, and then the voice of The Whistler intoning the intro quoted above. From that point, The Whistler begins his story, often addressing the protagonist directly (though he is heard only by the audience, and never by the characters). Throughout the story, The Whistler often comments directly on what is happening in the story, often acting in the way of a  Greek chorus, taunting the characters, guilty or innocent, from an omniscient perspective.

The show was also kind of a “twist” show, with each episode following someone who had committed a criminal act, and then having that act undone or receiving their comeuppance through some overlooked detail or minor flaw in their plan. This generally led to the episodes ending with some ironic twist

The Whistler ran from May 16, 1942, until September 22, 1955, on the west-coast regional CBS radio network. The show was also broadcast in Chicago and over Armed Forces Radio. On the west coast, it was sponsored by the Signal Oil Company:

As is true with many long running radio shows, where since the only truly identifiable characteristic was the actor’s voice, making substitution at times much less obvious than on a TV show or in a movie series, the title character of The Whistler was portrayed by many actors over the years. Bill Forman had the longest run in the title role, but he was also portrayed by Gale Gordon, Joseph Kearns, Marvin Miller, Bill Johnstone, and Everett Clarke.

The Whistler also spawned a series of eight films, all but one of which starred Richard Dix in the lead role (playing a different character in each movie) with Otto Forrest providing the voice of The Whistler who was never seen in the films. There was also a short-lived syndicated television series produced in 1954.

Here are some episodes from the series:

As a special treat, here’s an episode of the Whistler TV series:

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.