Old Time Radio - My Favourite Shows

OLD TIME RADIO - MY FAVOURITE SHOWS

As I’ve stated elsewhere my favourite OTR shows tend to be from the horror or Sci-Fi genres. I highly recommend the following programmes.  

Galaxy Magazine sponsored X Mnus One

DIMENSION X was first transmitted on Apr. 8, 1950 and ran until September 1951. Although it wasn’t the first adult science fiction radio series, Dimension X is remembered because of the quality of the writing. The scripts were based on works by well-known authors such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Block, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut. The stories veered between comedy and high drama and were ably performed by a strong ensemble cast.

If I were forced to pick my all time favourite OTR show then this would definitely be it. X MINUS ONE was a revival of NBC's earlier science fiction series, DIMENSION X. Both are remembered for bringing really first rate science fiction to the air. The early shows used scripts from Dimension X, but soon created new shows from stories from the pages of Galaxy Magazine. A total of 125 programs were broadcast, some repeats or remakes, until the last show in Jan 1958.   

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES was a horror anthology show that ran from 1941 until 1952. It's usually cited as one of the four or more programs used to define the medium.  A creaking door and spooky organ music heralded the arrival of Raymond, a host who's ghoulish puns and jokes added humour to the shows chills and thrills.  Throughout it's 10-year run, the show featured outrageous stories of murder and mayhem but provided the listener with solid imaginative entertainment.

THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELLER first rode the rails in 1943 and was played for the next nine years by Maurice Tarplin (see also THE STRANGE DOCTOR WEIRD). The shows opened with a shrieking locomotive roaring down the tracks. You, the listener, are a passenger along with "The Traveller", who insists on telling you a weird tale. David Kogan and Robert A. Arthur wrote and directed the series for its entire run.

Inner Sanctum Film Poster

Maurice Tarplin also starred as THE STRANGE DOCTOR WEIRD. The strange medical gentleman occupied the "house on the other side of the Cemetery". This short series lasted only from November 7, 1944 to May 22, 1945 and consisted of 29 shows, each 15 minutes long. The series originated in New York and was sponsored by Adam's Hats. This show is often overlooked by horror fans in favour of another anthology series - The Inner Sanctum. I think this is unfair, as the show’s budget obviously couldn’t stretch to hiring big Hollywood stars such as Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff but the stories are every bit as good as its more famous counterpart.  

DARK FANTASY was a series dedicated to dealings with the unknown. The shows covered horror, science fiction and murder mysteries. Although a short series, the shows are excellent with some stories way ahead of their time. The show was written by Scott Bishop and Keith Paynton served as announcer. 

 

ESCAPE, started as a summer replacement for half of the hour normally occupied by THE LUX RADIO THEATRE. It then aired for the 1947-1948 season, on Sundays. The show featured spine-tingling tales from such masters as Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe.  It was produced by William N. Robeson, and featured many seasoned radio actors. Unlike the other CBS adventure series, SUSPENSE, which ran from June 1942 to September 1962 almost without interruption, ESCAPE was frequently moved to different days through out its run. There were even a couple of long gaps where ESCAPE left the air. However thanks to solid scripts, excellent acting and high production values it is widely considered one of the best radio action adventure series. 

Orson Welles attempts to hide a nasty case of Acne One of the more enduring characters of the Old Time era made his debut in July 1930. THE SHADOW first appeared in shows such as THE DETECTIVE STORY HOUR and THE BLUE COAL RADIO REVIEW before landing his own series. Lamont Cranston’s early appearances were portrayed by James La Curto and Frank Redick Jr.  Orson Welles took over the role when the show moved to the Mutual Network in 1937 and THE SHADOW began to appear as a character in the stories, rather than merely as a narrator. Other actors to play the role included Brett Morrison and John Archer. The show ran until Boxing Day 1954.  

There were four series of HALL OF FANTASY, all produced by Richard Thorne. The first originated from radio station KALL in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1946 and into 1947.  The series consisted of 26 shows.  The shows were written or adapted by Robert Olson and directed by Mr. Thorne. Most were classic murder mysteries with traditional endings; the evil-doer got his just rewards. HALL OF FANTASY aired again in 1949 when Thorne was working at WGN in Chicago. This time, the series featured stories involving struggles against the supernatural where man was usually the loser, specializing in shock endings. This revival consisted of 112 shows.

Cloaked in mystery, THE WHISTLER was a shadowy figure who goaded the stories' murderers to their inevitable doom. This fine mystery series came to radio in 1942 and lasted 14 years. Billed as "the Pacific Coast's leading mystery show," For most of its run, Bill Forman played the title role and Dorothy Roberts performed the eerie 13-note whistle. 

Willis Cooper created one of the most famous, or even infamous, shows of all time in 1934. LIGHTS OUT is probably best remembered for its horrific sound effects. Cooper frequently used such effects as a knife tearing uncooked meat, cleavers slicing into heads of cabbage and frying bacon for electrocution to enhance his stories. When Cooper left for Hollywood in 1936 the show was passed on to Arch Oboler. He extended the format by taking it into the realms of fantasy, Science Fiction and the Occult. The series went through several incarnations throughout its long life, lasting until 1947.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were the stars of a series of 16 films featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. They transferred to radio in October 1939 and continued through to 1946 when  Rathbone played Holmes for the last time.  The actor wanted to return to the theatre and declined the offer of a new seven year contract. When THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES returned, Sherlock Holmes was now played by Tom Conway. The choice was a good one as the actor had a similar clipped accent to his predecessor. Nigel Bruce was given top billing and a more prominent role. However at the end of just one season, Conway and Bruce were replaced by John Stanley and Alfred Shirley. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were the stars of a series of 16 films featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. They transferred to radio in October 1939 and continued through to 1946 when  Rathbone played Holmes for the last time.  The actor wanted to return to the theatre and declined the offer of a new seven year contract. When THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES returned, Sherlock Holmes was now played by Tom Conway. The choice was a good one as the actor had a similar clipped accent to his predecessor. Nigel Bruce was given top billing and a more prominent role. However at the end of just one season, Conway and Bruce were replaced by John Stanley and Alfred Shirley.

THE WEIRD CIRCLE presented 30-minute tales of horror, frequently inspired by classic horror or ghost stories, frequently done by French authors.  It opened with the sound of the surf and the chant- like opening, "In this cave by the restless sea, we are met to call from out of past, stories strange and weird. Bell keeper, toll the bell, so that all may know that we are gathered again in the Weird Circle". The series ran from 1943 to 1947.   

DRAGNET may very well be the most well-remembered, and the best, radio police drama series. The show was broadcast on NBC from September 1949 to February 1957, DRAGNET brought to radio true police stories in a low-key, documentary style. Jack Webb starred as Sgt. Joe Friday and Barton Yarborough played his partner. The success of the radio show led the DRAGNET television series on NBC in early 1952.

Considered by many to be the best horror / science fiction series ever on radio, QUIET PLEASE originated from the pen of LIGHTS OUT creator Willis Cooper. Every episode was written in first person and starred the incredibly versatile actor Ernest Chappell. The shows range from deeply personal human-interest shows to some of the most original horror / science fiction stories ever written.  

SUSPENSE started a summer run of 13 shows, in 1942.  The series ran, with very few breaks, until its last show on September 30, 1962. Through the use of realistic sound effects and excellent characterisation, the audience was steadily drawn into the drama. The stories were always realistic, with characters that the listening audience could identify with and many famous names appeared in the list of players. This was the last of the great Radio Drama series. When SUSPENSE left the air, it signalled the end of an era.  

 

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