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Old-Time Radio Reviews

Old-Time Radio (OTR) reviewed with a discerning ear.

Your Mileage May Vary: A Technobohemian Audio Drama

Comedy from the Golden Age of Radio

This an excellent collection from Radio Spirits, currently the best old-time radio distributors on the market. It is fun to revisit old favorites (like Fibber McGee, Great Gildersleeve), be introduced to new favorites (My Favorite Husband, the progenitor of I Love Lucy), and be wary of those that didn't impress me at all (The Aldrich Family, The Milton Berle Show).

Having three shows each for all the 20 different programs is a wonderful way to sample and get a feel for a show without being inundated by any one particular program. On the other hand, collections like the one picked by Walter Cronkite only give you one broadcast upon which to form an opinion.

But what was most interesting was the selection of shows themselves. I had only heard two specific broadcasts before and I've been listening for years. And where else can you find such nuggets as...

1. Pre-stardom Doris Day singing on the Bob Hope Show.
2. Orson Welles bickering with Charlie McCarthy.
3. The Jack Benny Program done entirely by kids.
Anyone who is into old radio comedies should get a kick out of this collection. Yes, it is near being prohibitively expensive (especially with many files available on Web sites or in trading groups), but for a collection of this magnitude, one can hardly go wrong.

Legends of Radio: The Bob Hope Show

"Thanks for the memory..."

When radio/movie/comedy legend Bob Hope died in mid-2003, I realized I really did not have a great familiarity with his work. Like Elizabeth Taylor, to me Bob Hope was a star because he was a star. My library had this available to borrow, so I picked it up. Boy, am I glad I did.

Legends of Radio: The Bob Hope Show collects 40 of Bob's radio programs over a period of fifteen years. Going through different sponsors like Pepsodent, Chesterfield, and Swan soap, Hope always kept a similar style that he was the best at: taking current events and putting his own spin on them. There are topical skits (like on the Jack Benny Program) and always a few songs by Frances Langford or Doris Day to lighten up the mood. On hand, are also Jerry "Professor" Colonna--looking for "Yehudi"--and "Miss Vera Vague," a man-hungry annoyance. The humor is a little corny at times, but never offensive and always enjoyable.

Now, I suppose I should pick a favorite show of the bunch. Well, the Gracie Allen show was marvelous, with Miss Allen showing why she was such a gifted comic with what Jack Benny said was the greatest timing in show business. But the one that had me belly-laughing--while I was driving, no less--was the one that guested Jack Benny. Bob and Jack worked off each other so well that the show has an improvisatory feel, with Jack giving a tame line a twist by saying it in his own style. However, this show is more a showcase for Benny than Hope, but then again Bob was invariable generous with the laughs and Legends of Radio: The Bob Hope Show is a shining example of that.

Lux Radio Theatre featuring Cary Grant, Radio Movie Classics:
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Grant is wonderful as ever in these radio adaptations of two of his hit movies. Sadly, Myrna Loy--who starred with Grant in both pictures--is nowhere to be heard on these two cassettes. However Irene Dunne has stepped in to fill her shoes as Mrs. Blandings (broadcast October 10, 1949) and Shirley Temple reprises her role as the titular Bobby-Soxer (broadcast June 12, 1949).

Jeffrey Lyons introduces each recording with information on Grant's career and life, fitting for two of the Lux Radio Theatre's wonderful radio adaptations for which they were so rightly famous.

I was surprised at how well these highly visual stories transferred to the audio medium. The writers did a wonderful job of capturing the essences of these visuals.

"Lux Presents...Hollywood"


"...with Frank Lovejoy as Randy Stone."

Randy Stone is a reporter for the Chicago Star and he is always looking for a story for his "Nightbeat" column. This seems to get him involved in other people's problems, generally involving murder.

This is a terrific "detective" series, with great writing and an excellent characterization from Lovejoy. The collection contains various shows from the 1950-51 season, including the premiere episode (where the announcer mistakenly calls Randy "Rudy Stone").

A must for any fan of old-time radio detective stories.


A Prairie Home Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection

The title is a little misleading, as A Prairie Home Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection is essentially a collection of Garrison Keillor's closing "News from Lake Wobegon" monologues from over the years. And for a supposedly representative collection, there are only about fifteen of them with a good quarter of the time taken up with musical interludes (which are not my favorite part of the show).

But, even given that, A Prairie Home Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection is an excellent collection. Keillor's humor has obviously matured over time and this is a "time capsule" with which to revisit those older days. Although I would have liked a few of the funny commercials and some Guy Noir episodes sprinkled in for good measure, I really enjoyed listening to Keillor's soothing baritone tell about the ostensibly fictional but so real-feeling people of "my hometown."

Now you don't have to wait for Saturday evening (or Sunday afternoon) to enjoy A Prairie Home Companion. Just pop this in whenever you yearn for that homespun feeling and want to revisit the town "where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above-average."

Mercury Theatre starring Orson Welles, The Very Best of Orson Welles

The Very Best of Orson Welles contains two legendary broadcasts from "The Mercury Theatre on the Air." First is the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast from Halloween, 1938 -- the one that caused panic in the streets all across America and led to laws preventing such a thing from happening in the future (Max Allan Collins' somewhat fictionalized novel The War of the Worlds Murder covers this wonderfully.

On the second disc is the first ever Mercury Theatre broadcast, a marvelous adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. The liner notes of the CD focus more on the show on the first disc (this is even addressed in them), but both are equally good at evoking their respective moods, and are fine examples of the quality of work done by the Mercury Theatre on radio.

The Very Best of Orson Welles is also a real deal for the price. Two CDs with excellent audio quality from a new remastering (more remarkable when you consider the ages of the sources) are included, along with the abovementioned retrospective booklet, which either contains all you would want to know about the shows, or is a good starting point for further research. Of all the old-time radio discs I own, this one is my favorite, and that's saying a lot. It's a perfect gift for the old-time radio -- or Orson Welles -- fan.