Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Old Time Radio, Part 1

When I was a kid, I spent some weekends with my mother's youngest brother Mike and his family. I still remember the first time I heard an old time radio show. My cousin Peter had a reel-to-reel recording of War of the Worlds, by the Mercury Radio Theater on the Air. I had never heard of radio drama before, so we listened to it. I remember sitting transfixed while the drama played. My mind conjured images of the Martian invaders and their three-legged war machines. After that, we listened to the Lone Ranger, who was my dad's favorite hero. The episode he played for me was the origin of the Lone Ranger, and again I was fascinated. The story of how the masked man came to be unfolded and I was hooked for life. I happened to have a cassette recorder that I had received for Christmas that year, and recorded both shows to take back home.

When I was a much younger boy, I had always enjoyed comedy albums. Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers, and Homer & Jethro were among my favorites. Bill Cosby, in his "Wonderfulness" album, used his old time radio experiences to great effect in his "Chicken Heart" routine. He also references the Green Hornet and Lone Ranger in the go-carts routine. Suddenly, these references began to make sense.

I soon started seeking out radio drama, but there was really nowhere to turn. There were the nighttime shorts on local radio featuring Chicken Man, the White Winged Weekend Warrior, but it was tongue-in-cheek. Once I saw that there was a Superman radio show from ads placed on the back of Kellogg's Corn Flakes for a record giveaway, I was really interested! I never had a chance of getting those records, of course, but that didn't stop me from looking longingly at it every morning during breakfast.

Then there were those great Power Records, which combined a large format comic book with an audio drama, remember those? Featured at right is a Star Trek book and record set that I used to have with cover art by Neal Adams. I used to get these whenever I could, especially when they came out with one for the Six Million Dollar Man. There's a guy who has a whole blog about just these items!
It wasn't until I was in high school that I really got a healthy dose of radio drama. That was when our local NPR station started broadcasting the Star Wars radio show. What's that? You didn't know there was such a thing? Oh, yes. I hurried home each night to listen to it on radio in 1981. It took the Star Wars story and expanded it, filling in gaps where the movie had been edited. There was the usual clumsy expository dialogue that radio has to use to paint the images in your mind, but it used the original sound effects and some actors from the movie, including Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels. The actors who replaced the originals were no slouches, either. Brock Peters took the place of James Earl Jones, for example. You'd be surprised how good it really was!
More on this subject later. This is too much fun!

1 comment:

KC Ryan said...

Man, do I love old-time radio. I'm a big fan of the "When Radio Was" program on the radio late nights. Became quite a fan of "Yours truly, Johnny Dollar" just for the interesting way they used to narrate it according to his expense report.
Was also a big fan of The Great Gildersleeve, a sitcom about a town water commissioner. It was terrific - I could listen to that one any day!
I have a catalog of old-time radio shows available on cassette tape around somewhere....
Oh, yes, I listened to Superman and the Green hornet and the Shadow too (for some reason never really heard the Lone Ranger)...