Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“Take me back to yesterday once more…”

January 21st will see the release of a brand-new collection of Red Skelton radio broadcasts from Radio Spirits, a seven-disc set that I am only too proud to attach my name to…well, mainly because I wrote the liner notes. The twelve broadcasts—and two rehearsal recordings—to my knowledge have been previously uncirculated (they’re from Skelton’s estate) until now, and are culled from Red’s second season with The Raleigh Cigarette Program on NBC Radio in 1942.

I gleaned some nifty information from listening to these broadcasts—I learned that Truman Bradley’s rapport with the star comedian was a lot closer that I’ve previously reported (I like how Red often refers to him as “Brad”), and listened with rapt fascination as to how Red changed the character of J. Newton Numbskull from a sort of embryonic Freddie the Freedloader gentleman hobo (with a Willie Lump-Lump voice) to the henpecked Caspar Milquetoast character with which fans may be more familiar. (Listening to Skelton’s vocal characterization of Newton, he’s clearly channeling comic great Victor Moore.) I truly think this is one of the finest sets released by Radio Spirits, and if you’re a fan of Red Skelton’s your library is going to be mighty lonely if a copy hasn’t found its way to your shelf.

While I’m on the subject of old-time radio, I thought it only appropriate to give a shout-out to (First Generation) Radio Archives, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary of “preserving radio’s past for the future.” I’m pleased as punch to continue my association with Harlan, Tom and the gang—and in fact, penned the liner notes (with some help from “OTR’s Isaac Asimov,” Martin Grams, Jr.) to their latest release, The Shadow of Fu Manchu. (This shouldn’t be confused with an earlier Archives set which included episodes #1-39 of the syndicated series; this new set contains the remaining available episodes—and it should be noted that while many of the installments are missing as a result of neglect and the ravages of time the storyline is pretty easy to follow.) If you like blood ‘n thunder adventure—and Saturday morning cliffhanger serials in particular—this collection is a must for you.

FGRA is also offering a collection of broadcasts from the musical variety program, The Railroad Hour—a popular series heard on ABC and later NBC (as part of the network’s “Monday night of music”) from October 4, 1948 to June 21, 1954. “And here comes our star-studded show train!” announcer Marvin Miller would enthusiastically declare at the beginning of each broadcast, and host Gordon MacRae would preside over a half-hour (whittled down to such beginning April 25, 1949—previously Railroad Hour had been forty-five minutes) of adaptations from popular stage musicals and operettas…aided and abetted by guest stars like Doris Day, Jane Powell, Dinah Shore, etc. The Railroad Hour also had one of the most unusual sponsors in the history of the aural medium; it was underwritten by the American Association of Railroads—“the same railroads that bring you the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the fuel you burn, and all the other things you use in your daily life.” (Try purchasing that product from your local grocer!)

Radio Archives/Nostalgia Ventures also has a brand-spanking-new pair of their popular pulp fiction novel reproductions available: Volume 33 of The Shadow contains the tales The Strange Disappearance of Joe Cardona and The Hand, written in two-fisted thriller style by Walter B. Gibson (as Maxwell Grant). Doc Savage Volume 32 spotlights two tales by Lester Dent (as Kenneth Robeson), The Feathered Octopus and The Goblins. (There's also a bonus tale included: an exciting adventure of Click Rush, The Gadget Man.) Simply put, Radio Archives is your one-stop place for classic old-time radio…if you’re a fan of OTR comedy, you should definitely check out some of the offerings: sets that spotlight The Milton Berle Show (a personal recommendation), Father Knows Best, Fibber McGee & Molly and so many more. To the Radio Archives gang: happy tenth anniversary!

One of the great things about the Internets is that a world of old-time radio is literally at your fingertips: you can download broadcasts for free at the Internet Old Time Radio Archive, and listen to them streamed live through venues like The WRVO Playhouse and Yesteryear USA. There’s also a number of stations that broadcast OTR via Live365, Winamp radio, etc.

A newcomer to this group—and one that I believe deserves to be singled out only because of the individuals behind the project (you’ll find a link under “Recommended Yesteryear Sites”)—is Radio Once More, a online station dedicated to broadcasting vintage radio shows 24 hours daily, seven days a week, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year.

You may be asking why I’m so gung-ho on Radio Once More. First off the bat, the audio quality is quite literally the best I’ve listened to—and believe me, I’ve sampled a lot of OTR stations. Many of them offer programming via mp3 form, recorded at 32 kps and they sound as if someone recorded the shows with a pair of tin cans and some string. I caught an Ozzie & Harriet broadcast (“The Knitting Contest,” 01/02/49) on ROM last night and the clear-as-a-bell audio literally knocked my socks off.

Their on-air hosts number some of the most respected individuals in the hobby—Terry Salomonson, a man from who I’ve purchased many a CD in the past, can be heard on Audio Classics, and Neal Ellis—one of the founders of the station—hosts Radio Once More. Other “emcees” include Ken Stockinger, Jo Snyder and Martin Grams, Jr.

ROM also takes pride in their “live” broadcasts, featured at 9pm EST on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Sundays at 6pm. Among the upcoming shows:

January 18, Monday: Rodney Bowcock, OTR historian and co-proprietor of Finders Keepers, will co-host a broadcast that looks at the comedy serial Vic & Sade. (Full disclosure: Rodney is the one who mentioned Radio Once More to me on Facebook last night, and requested I call in if I got the opportunity…which I am certainly planning to do.)

January 20, Wednesday: Author Jack French (Private Eyelashes) will guest to discuss syndicated radio programs, and samples of famous (and infamous) shows will be featured.

January 22, Friday: Old-time radio’s most beloved curmudgeon, Charlie Summers, will be the guest. (And you thought Bill Crider was king of “Get off my lawn”…)

January 25, Monday: Martin Grams, Jr. will sit in for a spell to discuss his latest book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Martin will also make an appearance on a January 20th broadcast to talk about his book The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television (co-authored with the aforementioned Mr. Salomonson…who will forget more about the Har-nut than you and I will ever remember).

As I finish this post, I’m listening to a vintage broadcast on ROM of the soap opera chestnut Pepper Young’s Family (06/06/44). Old-time radio has never sounded so good!

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Bill Crider said...

Thanks for the tip on Radio Once More. See how uncurmudgeonly I am?

J.C. Loophole said...

I discovered Radio Once More about a week back ("how long have you been having problems with your back?") also through a fan page on Facebook. I too was impressed by the sound quality. I walk the mean streets of the interwebs routinely looking in dark alleys for OTR to stream or download and ROM is excellent. One of my favorite places to go is otrperk where I've been trying to listen to the entire library of Jack Benny they have there (fairly complete I think), and the sound quality is decent but not consistant. It's no mean feat to pull off excellent sounding OTR. Kudos to ROM.

VP81955 said...

In case you missed it, I recently did an entry at "Carole & Co." about a relatively rare episode of "Screen Guild Playhouse" in which WIlliam Powell and wife Diana Lewis star in an adaptation of "To Be Or Not To Be." ( It aired in mid-January 1943, at roughly the one-year anniversary of the passing of Powell's former wife, Carole Lombard (though her name isn't mentioned during the broadcast).

It makes for intriguing listening -- first, to hear Powell approach the role of Joseph Tura, and second, to discover how the film was adapted into a half-hour format (it was never adapted on "Lux Radio Theater"). Sig Rumann reprises his role from the film, whileJon Hall has the Robert Stack role.

For a direct link, go to