Old Time Radio 101: Guide To Collecting Old Time Radio Shows

A family gathered around the radio to listen to an old time radio program during the heyday of old time radio.

Ninety one years ago KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air, becoming the first commercial radio station, broadcasting its signal in 1920.

By the end of 1923, hundreds of radio stations were now broadcasting. An estimated three to four million radio sets were able to pick up the broadcast of the funeral, of President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1924.

The Grand Ole Opry will broadcast its first program in 1925, with it being broadcast continuously for 86 years. Sam and  Henry first heard in 1926 would become Amos N’ Andy in 1928 and remain on radio until 1960, to be come the longest running old time radio show.

With NBC being founded in 1926 and CBS starting the next year in 1926, networks were now in place, to broadcast nationwide radio series. The Goldbergs went on the air in 1929 and would run till 1950.

Radio listeners would hear the homespun humor of Lum N’ Abner for the first time in 1931, making this year the 80th anniversary of their first show.

Jack Benny and Fred Allen and other comedians debuted on network radio in 1932 paving the way for other comedians in coming years.

The horror and thriller genre would present The Shadow for the first time in 1932, while Just Plain Bill and One Man’s Family debuted from the soap opera genre. Action heroes Buck Rogers and Tarzan were also first heard in 1932.

Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club first aired in 1933 and would remain on the air through 1968. I can still remember the song from the opening of the show, as best I can remember:

“Good morning Breakfast Clubbers, howdy do you, first call to breakfast to all of you out there, America’s first call to breakfast”.

The Lux Radio Theater would begin its 22 year run in 1934. It was regarded as the best of the theater type shows, in which famous actors would present a film in spoken form.

Bob Hope and Fibber McGee and Molly hit the airwaves in 1935. The shows were debuting so fast, that it is not possible to continue the chronology, due to time and space limitations. There would be at least one new show debuting on network radio through 1959. 1961 and 1962 would be first years with no new radio programming being introduced. Old time radio for all practical purposes died on September 30, 1962 when Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar aired their last episodes. They were the last scripted shows broadcast on network radio. Some radio variety shows like Arthur Godfrey remained on the air, non-scripted shows had disappeared from the old-time radio scene.

Television and movies brought about the demise of old-time radio. People that used to gather in their living rooms, to hear old-time radio programs, now gathered to watch television. If they weren’t doing that they were watching movies at the local movie house, or watching movies from their car at a local drive-in movie theatre.

Old Time Radio Shows Can Still Be Heard

Collecting old-time radio shows used to be cost prohibitive, for the most part for collectors. Then MP3 recordings changed all that by letting old-time radio fans listen to as many as 50 half-hour programs on one MP3 disc. Some online old-time radio dealers would sell a disc like that for as little as $4.

That is only reason my collection of old-time radio shows numbers around 18,000. I have a notebook that shows what shows I have listened to and when. With that many shows, there is no reason to listen to the same show twice.

The easiest way to record these shows and drag and drop them into my MP3 player, is to go to My Computer, open up the files on that MP3 CD and drag and drop them into my Sony MP3 player software, which processes the shows, after they are dropped into the icon for the MP3 player. I thought it would be more complicated than it was, but it is relatively easy. While the shows are copying, I write the show dates and titles of the shows I am recording onto the MP3 player, into the notebook.

Online Radio Dealers

Old time radio dealers can be found on the internet to buy the shows from, but the shows can bought at ebay.com for good prices, from most ebay dealers.

It is best buy the shows on MP3 CD’s unless you know how to breakdown a MP3 DVD, which I don’t know how, or you may only be able to play it on a computer. One thing to remember is that MP3 CD’s cannot be played on a regular CD player.

If you do know how to handle a MP3 DVD there is a set of 930 shows of Suspense currently on ebay for $4.89 with a shipping charge of $1.79, which comes out to $6.68 for 930 shows, or about 7 cents an episode.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/SUSPENSE-Old-Time-Radio-Shows-930-Episodes-MP3-/200649713915?pt=Music_CDs&hash=item2eb7a7a8fb#ht_2759wt_932

This is the most informative site for finding great descriptions of each old-time radio show and finding those MP3 CD’s for sale. For instance this is the Great Gildersleeve page which includes a free sample of one of the shows. The website adds previously unavailable episodes every month. It is great that 49 years later after the death of old-time radio, that missing episodes are still being found.

http://www.otrcat.com/great-gildersleeve-p-1337.html

The following online dealer also offers MP3 CD’s with updates, including episodes of shows found recently, that were previously missing.  The best thing about this site is that the price you see is the price you pay, since there is no shipping fees at this site.

http://dadsotr.com/index.html

Thousands of Free Show Online

There are also thousands of free shows that can be listened to online immediately for no charge. This is one of my favorite places for listening to free shows.

You can find 12,369 free shows to listen to. There are 610 free Jack Benny shows alone to listen to and 973 Lone Rangers shows.

http://otr.net/

Archive.org is another great place to listen to free old-time radio shows, but there is also a wealth of other content at the site, that may be of interest to readers.

http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=old%20time%20radio%20AND%20mediatype%3Aaudio

Best Source For Old Time Radio Shows Information

For information on 100,645 old-time radio programs, the best place to search is the Radio GOLD Index. The site features descriptions of  individual episodes of shows, including the stars of each episode and the announcer.

The name of any star can be typed in the search box and a list of any episodes they appeared in will show up on the screen. However, the site will be missing some episodes of shows, so it is not a complete listing.

The best source for information of shows in book form is John Dunning’s On The Air The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio printed by Oxford Press. The list price is $55, but I found it several years ago at ebay for $25. It was in perfect condition for that price, looking like it had never been opened.

Amazon has 38 reviews of the book with 32 being 5 star reviews and 4 being 4 star reviews. The 840 page book lists the days of the week the show was on, a list of cast members and what networks the show appeared on, in addition to a review of each show, with the more popular shows receiving longer reviews.

There is a Kindle edition of the book for $19.22.

http://www.amazon.com/Air-Encyclopedia-Old-Time-Radio/dp/0195076788/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1317751599&sr=1-12

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