7/02/2010

Why I Love Old Radio Shows


I'm a big fan of old radio detective shows and dramatizations from the '40s and '50s.  Here's a list of some of the things that I love about these programs:
  1. Convenience.  Unlike TV, you can listen to radio without having to be tied to a TV screen - means you can do manual labor and listen at the same time.  Especially great for walking/jogging, housework, and working out at the gym.
  2. Access.  Radio is portable - you can listen to it anywhere with laptop or ipod access.  No laser/flatscreen/HDTV television or cable/fiber/DVR required.
  3. Commercials!  Rather than an annoyance, the commercials are actually part of the fun.  I especially love the commercials that are trying to persuade you to buy items that we take for granted now (canned soup vs. homemade soup; disposable glass jars vs. returnable).  And those catchy jingles ...!  ("Rinso white! Rinso white! Your happy little washday song!")
  4. History Lessons.  Many of the shows include interludes in which the announcers, sponsors or stars interrupt the show in order to discuss the ongoing war effort, bond drives, blood drives, paper drives, rationing, the need for female workers, the dangers of espionage/black markets/spying, etc.  Really makes you appreciate the effort that WWII was not just for the soldiers, but for all Americans.  (Also just how widespread was our fear of communists!)
  5. Civics Lessons.  What amazed me when I began listening is the number of commercial announcements given over to overt government propoganda: the advantages of democracy over other forms of government, the importance of state's rights, the history of each state, the roles of various government officials and offices ....  Strange to imagine a time when our government felt it necessary to convince us of the advantages of democracy.
  6. Public Service Announcements.  You have to love the announcements aimed at informing us citizens of the perils of fast driving, the necessity of supporting our farmers, and the importance of attending church every Sunday. 
  7. Stargazing.  Many of the dramatizations feature Hollywood stars that later went on to become great - it's fun to listen to them "earning their chops" on radio!
  8. Catch a Matinee. Many shows - particularly the Lux Radio Hour, Campbell Playhouse, and Academy Award Theater - specialized in adapting the most popular (and still famous) movies into radio dramatizations, often voiced by the same stars that played the roles in the movies.  Some of my favorites include Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Rebecca, It Happened One Night, and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir.  (By the way, if you liked the Bogey/Bacall duo, catch them in Bold Venture, a radio show in which they sailed from port to port in search of adventure.)
  9. Read a Good Book.  Other series like the Hallmark Playhouse and NBC University Theater specialized in adapting the most popular (and still famous) books into radio dramatizations.  If you somehow never got around to plowing your way through such classics as Arrowsmith, The Last of the Mohicans, Of Mice and Men, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Sons and Lovers, Don Quixote, or Treasure Island, trying listening to them in dramatized form - SO much more interesting, and done in 1hr or less!
  10. Catch a Play.  Series such as Great Plays specialized in dramatizing the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, Marlowe, O'Neill, Miller, Shaw, Wilde, Williams, and the Greek dramatists.  Let your brain invent the costumes and the sets and you'll never have to worry about budget constraints ... or tiny glasses of wine that cost $14 and have to be consumed in 4 minutes!
  11. Organ Music.  Outside of baseball games and church, organ music has pretty much vanished.  Such a shame, because there's nothing like the swell of organ music to make sure you don't sleep through the exciting parts.  Soooo dramatic!
  12. Gotta Love the Price.  Thanks to sites like The Internet Archive and Old Radio World, you can listen to literally thousands of old radio shows for free, or download them to your ipod/MP3 player for the same low price (that's free, in case you weren't paying attention the first time).
  13. I'll Take My Crime Hardboiled, Please.  Enjoy crime the way writers like Hammett and Cain intended it be enjoyed - hardboiled. Many of the shows have a noiry edge (rainy streets, cheating dames), and some episodes are as beautifully written as the classics.  Of course, sometimes they are classics: all the Sherlock Holmes stories were eventually adapted for radio, as were the exploits of other favorite literary detectives to include Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, The Falcon, and Nero Wolfe.
  14. Christmas.  Those old radio guys knew how to celebrate the season! Lux Radio Theater dramatized such holiday classics as It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street; Campbell's Playhouse snagged the great Lionel Barrymore for their annual production of A Christmas Carol; and every serial had regular Christmas episodes, of course. But I especially enjoy the Christmas broadcasts (often called "Command Performances") intended for the troops serving overseas: it's great to listen to the masters of big band perform, interspersed with comedy by Hope & Crosby, and of course those moral-boosting patriotic messages from a parade of starlets.  Guaranteed to add some white and blue to your Christmas red!

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