Silver Age of Radio Drama

End of the Golden Age, Beginning of the Silver Age
(1960-1975)

The last two shows were Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. it became the era of syndicated shows, rebroadcasting the old shows (to which syndicators did not have the rights to sell), and some notable independent productions.

CBS Mystery cat logoJust before the American Bicentennial, in 1974, William Paley, the head of CBS Radio and long time supporter of Radio theater, decided that they would begin broadcasting new radio drama. He hired Himan Brown, the man who was the talent behind Inner Sanctum, one of the best combination Horror and Terror shows in the 1940s and 1950s, to put together a new creaking door spook show for a one-hour per night show for CBS radio network affiliates around the country and in Canada. It became the CBS Mystery Theater.

Brown hired the old radio writers who were still around to write the formula men and women under threat of monsters, aliens, ghouls, ghosts, and plain old murderers. He also got the great radio talent of the golden age to stand in front of the mikes and create the performances that could match the thousands of hours of radio drama that still existed on tape, on disc and on old wire recordings. They had the classic technicians who knew how to do radio sound effects. The shows varied in script quality, but most of them still hold up to listening.

CBS Mystery Theater, heard on most stations every night at 9PM, was a hit. Ad rates are the prime measure of success with radio stations. "Drive Time" the two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening when most commuters are stuck in their cars and only able to listen to radio, was booked at Triple-A rates. In the 1960s and 80s, the drive-time AAA ad rate was the gold standard that paid for staff and equipment for the stations. CBS Radio Mystery Theater regularly outclassed Drive time and stations discovered they could charge three times the AAA rate for a spot during their evening radio drama.

Mutual MikeMutual Broadcasting jumped on the bandwagon with Mutual Adventure Theater, later the Sears Adventure Theater, first with classic scripts like Jules Verne's and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but later with more contemporary writers, including new young authors writing for radio for the first time.

Charles Michaelson, Inc. - syndicated some of the old radio shows in packages to compete with the new show, but at a much cheaper rate. One of the ways this could be done was that Michaelson didn't have the rights to the shows it sold, and paid nothing to the writers, actors, sound effects performers, or musicians who worked on the shows. It was all gravy.

Around the country small workshops and groups of friends put together radio theater troupes began doing original shows. Tom Lopez created ZBS Media and streamed great series of intelligent, modern metaphysical, post-hippy stories of adventure and imagination. We'll talk about more of those later. He did Five, ten, and twenty episode serials release free to noncommercial stations and self sustaining through sales on cassette. And later on CDs.

The End of the Silver Age

From 1976 to about 1982 it looked like the radio star would rise again, but it didn’t. Cable television captures the audience who were dissatisfied with episodic crap - are you familiar with these technical term? "Crap"? Do you know that word?

Television had been crap because of the needs of syndication. To be syndicated the shows had to be able to run in any order - character changes were not allowed. The guest star got to have the changes, up to and including getting killed, but the main characters had to be back next week with the same characters ready for another guest star to go through the life and death changes of a real ‘story’. They were anecdotes - little tales in which the characters are not effected by the story except as a passing note in a never changing life.

Shows to Study

Show shows are presented to let you hear the work to understand how they wrote and produced the shows. 

The Silver Age of Radio Drama

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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.


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