As we kick off the month of February, First Generation Radio Archives is ready to welcome old-time radio fans with a fifth volume of programs from The Big Show, the 1950-1952 comedy-variety extravaganza (hosted by Tallulah Bankhead) that was NBC’s last gasp attempt to siren-song listeners away from the long-running Jack Benny Program and Amos ‘n’ Andy. To be honest, had I been a listener back in that day it probably would have been difficult for me not to listen to Jack and his gang or the members of the Mystic Knights of the Sea—but it’s great to have the opportunity (thanks to the people who saved the Big Show transcriptions) with today’s technology to listen to their competition, because The Big Show is everything its name implies. (The fidelity of these programs, as I remarked in a recent telephone conversation with FGRA’s Tom Brown, is such that you actually feel like you’re in the control booth as the show is on the air.) The comedic talent that participated—Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, Jack Carson, Joan Davis, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx—was never less than first-rate, and the other performers like Ethel Barrymore, Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Judy Holliday, Ethel Merman and Frank Lovejoy were certainly no slouches either. If you’re wistfully nostalgic for the long-ago days of the big-time variety program, you simply have to add this latest Premier Collection…to your Collection, of course.
First Generation also has three new Radio Legends releases rolling off their assembly line this month: The Couple Next Door, Matinee with Bob & Ray and Screen Director’s Playhouse. Couple was a sequel (of sorts; they wanted to call the couple in the series "Ethel and Albert" but were contractually obligated not to) to Peg Lynch’s sublime Ethel & Albert series that was popular on both radio and television from the mid ‘40s to mid ‘50s (the liner notes for this collection were written by yours truly) and Matinee showcases the immortal team of Elliott & Goulding in their pre-network days on Boston’s WHDH. I was tickled to see the addition of the Playhouse collection however, because this was a show I listened to on Savannah’s WWSA when they broadcast Victor Ives’ The Golden Age of Radio Theater back in the mid ‘80’s. Playhouse had a relatively brief run on radio (1949-51) but it was one of the better “movie dramatization” programs; had it premiered earlier during Radio’s Golden Age it might very well have been a worthy contender to Lux Radio Theatre. Normally, I’m not a fan of these types of programs (only because once I start listening I decide I’d be better off watching the actual movie) but Playhouse would be ideal for passing the time on a long car trip if you didn’t have access to a DVD player (the adaptations of A Foreign Affair and [The File on] Thelma Jordon are two of my recommendations).
If you order anything from First Generation Radio Archives this month, you will receive a bonus courtesy of the Archives’ major domo Harlan “Low Overhead” Zinck: a CD sampler of one of FGRA’s prestige shows, The Planet Man. Okay, I’m kind of yanking your chain with that last part, but if you enjoy the golly-gee-whiz action of Space Patrol or Tom Corbett, Space Cadet you’ll go gaga over Planet Man, originally broadcast in seventy-eight installments in…well, why am I telling you all this? Here are the liner notes for the Planet Man collection (and yes, it’s another one of mine)…and this month (and this month only) if you purchase the first volume of this Premier Collection you will receive the second volume absotively, posolutely free. All these fantastic deals being offered this month, and you’re just sitting here reading and thinking: “My God, could his ego be any bigger?” Go forth and stimulate the economy already! You won’t be disappointed.