Golden Age of Radio Drama

Look for the Union
                Label...Sponsors in the evening wanted music, comedy or mysteries. Kraft Music Hall, the Chase & Sanborn show with George Burns and Gracie Allen, or Blue Coal presents The Shadow from the Street & Smith pulp magazines, or A high class drama hour with top stars, famous writers, and Hollywood Directors, brought to you by Rexall Drug Stores.

There were monsters beyond description from original radio dramatists, adaptations of classic tale of terror, or Lovecraftian nameless terrors, or monsters from out outer space - and they terrified American audiences from the early 1930s until 1962, and then again with CBS and Mutual Radio theaters, offering of new productions using classic writers and Directors. America has fallen into the delusion radio was just corny old shows like the classics of "Old Time Radio" with variety shows, live music you may not like, corny jokes, audiences laughing at things you just don't find funny - and a very sterile, sexless, and ignorant country who never deals with real issues. Some of it was really dreadful not just as our modern judgement of those productions. They would have been dreadful according to anyone's estimation. As a quick example, here is a challenger to the popular Shadow - a cheap knockoff called The Avenger. Listen as the hero takes his pill to make him invisible so he can go fight crime.

The Avenger Horrible Examples :: Full episode: "The Giant Brain"

Hall of
                Fantasy adWould that better today? Having an invisible super hero on radio was as silly as having a ventriloquist as one of America's most popular shows for twenty years. Well they did that, too. Most of you will have heard of Edgar Bergen and his little wooden friend, Charlie McCarthy.

A ventriloquist. On the radio. Think about it.

Some of these local shows developed comment little companies where the same people came back weeks to challenge the audiences nerves and make them think that there might be a witch living in the apartment upstairs, or the dog turns into something horrible when they aren't looking, or there is a thing shambling up to their back door from the swamp.

Lights Out AdBudgets were cheap and and there were things you could do on the radio that might seem cliche now, but they weren't cliche when they were first broadcast. Here is a sample from Arch Oboler - the infamous master of the program "The Devil and Mr. O" or "Lights Out" doing some things you can't do on television.

Listen: The Devil and Mr. O excerpt Exercise in Horror.

But from the beginning radio drama used the active participation of the audience to create stories of bone chilling imagination that gave countless hours of nightmares and nervous looks over the shoulder because that sound was like the one I heard last night. That voice sounds like my neighbor. That horrible murder happened to someone doing what I was doing this afternoon.

Blue Coal ad for local
                distributorYou became involved as your brain painted the perfect scene. Let me take just a quick moment to define the terms. You cannot be expected to know something until someone tells you for the first time. And the marketing of OTR - Old Timer Radio does't bother to define terms at all. What we call "The Golden Age of Radio" lasted from the early 1930s until the last national network shows signed off in 1962. They were on CBS and they were Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. After that radio belonged to news and music with Sunday morning public service talk shows and church services.

Old Time Radio usually specialized in three types of shows:

                Sanctum ad1) Serials - Usually, 15-minute shows heard five times a week (Monday through Friday) with a small cast going through detailed stories. These included "soap operas", Children's after school shows, and occasional unique shows, like Vic & Sade which was not the usual comedy;

2) Series - Half hour shows in chunk or 39 weeks, or 13 week "summer replacement" series. These were what became best identified shows - comedies* like The Jack Benny Show, Burns & Allen, Our Miss Brooks; detective shows like Michale Shane, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, or Rocky Jordan; horror anthologies; and short police, science fiction or horror shows, like X Minus One, Gangbusters, Dragnet, and Escape; and

3) Anthologies - a different story every show and there is an opportunity to tell real life-and-death stories. These were shows like Witch's Tale, Lights Out, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, and The Whistler. They burned up scripts at a phenomenal rate. There were new markets for writers all the time from new shows seeking writers, and old shows who needed new writers to replace the one who had just crashed and burned. If you search the internet you can still find little theater groups hosting a night of radio drama for a live audiences, complete with music and sound effects. Some of them are adaptations of classic, public domain stories. Some are original. Some of them can even be streamed through the web long after the live performance has passed. 

Gold Age Shows (1930s-40s-50s)

A Sampler of Golden Age Shows
The Witche's Tales - First regular Fantasy/Horror program
Quiet Please - Show name - Comment - Links
Vic and Sade - Daily Serial - Great Writing (and personal favorite)


How to Listen to Shows

Double click on the title of the show and it should play in your web browser.

How to Download Shows

Windows - Right Click (Macintosh, Option-Click) on title, choose "Download link as..." and save it to the directory of your choice.

* Although extremely popular in the Golden Age, this site does not cover radio comedy or comedy/variety formats. A web search will reveal dozens of sites that do that job well. And they worth the listen.


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