Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gather ‘round the Philco

Three days into December, and I’ve just realized that I neglected to tout the wonderful audio delights being showcased at the place where they’re “preserving radio’s past for the future”—the First Generation Radio Archives. (I did manage to change the header over at the right…but apparently became preoccupied with something else and forgot to finish the task.)

FRGA isn’t releasing any new Premier Collections this month (hey, Harlan, Tom and the whole Archives gang need a breather every now and then, too) but November’s offerings—Fibber McGee & Molly: The Lost Episodes, Volume 6 and The Big Bands on One Night Stand: Volume 2—are still available…and if you order $30.00 or more in merchandise from FGRA, they will ship your order for FREE! (Orders placed before 7:30pm EST Mon-Fri and 4:00pm EST Saturdays will go out that same day.) And I just wanna tell ya—Mrs. Zinck must be baking a bunch of fruitcake bribes for the USPS because I received a big honkin’ package from “The Voice” himself on Monday that was mailed out on Friday—“Speedy Delivery!” as Mr. McFeely used to say.

FGRA does, however, have three new Radio Legends sets available this month, kicking off with a second volume of the OTR favorite Casey, Crime Photographer. Twenty action-packed episodes from the popular newspaper drama (these shows were originally broadcast on CBS Radio between 1947-48) that stars Staats Cotsworth as the title character, “ace cameraman who covers the crime news of the great city,” Jan Miner as his reporter sidekick Annie Williams, and John Gibson as Ethelbert, the genial bartender of Casey and Annie’s favorite watering hole, The Blue Note. (John Dunning, OTR historian and author of On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Radio, once described this show as having “more history than substance.” I say it’s much better than he lets on.)

Also available this month is a second volume of a classic series that was “designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of high adventure.” That’s right—FGRA is offering you Escape! Twenty full-length half-hour broadcasts originally heard over the CBS Network between January and June 1948, this must-have set contains two of Escape’s best-remembered productions: “Leiningen Versus the Ants” (the debut broadcast of what would become one of radio’s most durable dramas) and “A Shipment of Mute Fate” (one of my very favorite radio “terror stories”). Often referred to as the sister show to its star-studded sibling, Suspense, Escape has always been among my top-five favorite OTR series on the strength of its writing and flawless casting—discarding “big-name” stars in favorite of those incredible talents found in what Hollywood dubbed “Radio Row” (William Conrad, Frank Lovejoy, Harry Bartell, Jack Webb, etc.)

Finally, to top off this three-course meal of audio delights, FGRA has put together a third volume of adventures featuring the man “with the action-packed expense account.” Twenty episodes of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar—starring the actor considered by fans to be the definitive Dollar (in other words, “the buck stops here”), Bob “Let George Do It” Bailey, all on a 10-CD set for the nominal price of $19.95 (as are Casey, Volume 2 and Escape, Volume 2). Any self-respecting old-time radio fan needs to have these sets among their collection, so why not get in on the ground floor?

Of course, what with the holidays and all, it’s tradition among OTR buffs to start listening to the legendary radio serial The Cinnamon Bear, which is also being offered up by the Archives this month as well. I purchased a copy of this set about two or three years ago for my sister Debbie’s little girl, and asked Deb if she would have Rachel check it out and let me know if she enjoyed it. I didn’t honestly think it would appeal to her—Rachel is growing up in a American Idol-Nickelodeon age—but when I visited her sometime after that Christmas, she was breathless with anticipation to tell me how much she enjoyed it. I even pulled up this page on FGRA’s website to show her some illustrations of the characters and she knew every one in sight. So if you haven’t introduced a child or grandchild or niece/nephew to the magic of The Cinnamon Bear—this would be the perfect time to do so now.

First Generation Radio Archives offers additional Yuletide-themed adventures as well: Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas On the Moon and Jump-Jump the Ice Queen being two examples. And for that individual who may be a tad too old for Paddy O’Cinnamon, check out the Archives’ Christmas compilations—particularly Christmas: On the Air! Volume 2, on which you’ll find two incredible variety shows, the third annual Elgin Christmas Party and the post-war Command Performance Christmas Special.

Deck the halls with old-time radio, folks—it’s the most wondrous time of the year!


Charlie Summers said...

the legendary radio serial The Christmas Bear

Er...that's The Cinnamon Bear. See here for a packet of stuff to aid your listening to this series, provided by the late Dennis Crow, the best friend a four-inch-high bear ever had.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Er...that's The Cinnamon Bear.

Yes indeed, it is. This is what happens when the economy tanks--my crack team of proofreaders had to be let go.

Duly noted and corrected, Charlie--thanks for pointing it out!