I was born in 1944 and lived the first 18 years of my life, during the old time radio era, which ended on September 30,1962, when the last two dramatic shows, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense were broadcast for the last time.
There are no recollections in my mind, of our family gathering around the radio, like the family pictured above, but I still can recall hearing some of the programs. I can remember hearing Dragnet, Bob Hope, Arthur Godfrey and the Breakfast Club with Don McNeill. I can also recall my mother listening to the soap operas of that era, as she listened to Just Plain Bill, Stella Dallas, Lorenzo Jones, Pepper Young’s Family and One Man’s Family.
1960 would see the last five soap operas leave the radio airwaves, including Ma Perkins and Young Doctor Malone.
Arthur Godfrey Time and Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club were the two best-known early morning shows and were often heard in our house in the mornings, though they must have been on at the same time at some point. The last Breakfast Club was broadcast in 1968, while the last Arthur Godfrey Time was broadcast in 1972.
There was something about Arthur Godfrey, that made him seem like a family friend and he could sell anything, since he came across as being someone you could trust.
Interest in Old Time Radio Rekindled In 90’s
My interest in old time radio became rekindled in the 90’s, when my mother let me listen to a set of old time radio shows. I bought a few tapes of my own, but didn’t really start collecting old time radio shows, till I found that I could buy MP3 CD’s of old time radio shows on eBay for nominal prices.
That is when I became serious about collecting old time radio shows. Previously cassettes and regular compact discs could hold very few shows, but the MP3 compact discs made it possible to record fifty half-hour shows onto one MP3 CD. I also bought the shows at MP3 CD sellers online, who were selling the shows for bargain prices. For instance, I was able to buy over 800 Jack Benny shows for only $12. To buy that many shows on a cassette or regular compact disc would have cost hundreds of dollars, before the advent of MP3 CD’s.
One key to buying old time radio shows is to always go to lowest price plus shipping, when searching for shows on eBay. For instance 441 shows of Boston Blackie and The Shadow on a DVD can be bid on for only 99 cents and this price includes shipping. The price could still go up, but probably not that much, since there are only three days left in the bidding, on this particular DVD. DVD’s hold even more shows and enable a collector, to build a large collection even faster.
I also bought a lot of shows from otrcat.com, which offers a complete sample show to listen to, of almost every show available at the website. The site also has excellent descriptions of each show, so you will know the history of that show before buying it.
The front page of the website has a New Additions feature, that sells shows that have added previously unheard episodes or obscure shows, not usually sold online by any dealer.
Record Keeping, Playing MP3 CD’s
I have a filing system with my collection, with about 175 MP3 CD’s inside one large folder, which holds over 17,000 shows. I keep a notebook folder with loose leaf paper, with a sheet of paper for each show. I write the name of the show, the name of the episode and when it was listened to. That prevents me from listening to the same show more than once, unless I like the show enough to listen to it more often.
At first I listened to the episodes on a portable MP3 CD player, but later switched to a MP3 player, which plays the shows after the digital files for the shows have been uploaded into the MP3 player. Once they are in the MP3 player, the names of each episode is shown in a list on the MP3 player. After listening to the show, the show can be deleted from the MP3 player, to avoid having to go through so many shows to find one particular episode.
When I select a MP3 CD to listen to I insert the CD into the CD drive on the computer. It then shows up in the Windows Explorer files and I send the shows I want to my MP3 player, which has been connected to the tower. I can manually highlight the shows I want transfered to MP3 player and after writing the information for each episode of that show into the notebook, then manually drag the episodes of that show, into the MP3 player. In my case I use the Sony Content Transfer folder as the ultimate destination on the desktop, which is really the MP3 player.
I have a list of all my shows and how many episodes and how many CD’s and hours there are of each episode.
For example, there are 869 Jack Benny Shows in my collection on 9 MP3 CD’s which total 433 hours of Jack Benny shows.
My Favorite Old Time Radio Shows
My favorite old time radio show is This Is Your FBI, which tells true stories of FBI cases of that era and especially features stories of soldiers, who have returned from war who have been swindled out of their money, by con men who conspire to take their money.
The shows feature both the criminals making their plans and squabbling among themselves and the FBI agents working to capture the criminals. The shows are easy to listen to and keep your attention, since the shows are so well-written.
Boston Blackie is one of my favorites, because I enjoy the interplay between Blackie and Inspector Faraday. The inspector immediately suspects that Blackie committed whatever crime is being committed, because of Blackie’s criminal history as a safe cracker. However, the inspector is always proven wrong by the end of the story.
Night Watch was a precursor to COPS, with the main difference, that it is an old time radio show from the 1950’s that uses a reporter in the police car to record every word spoken during a night on patrol.
The show will touch the listeners emotionally, as it touched me. One of the episodes is about a lady who leaves her kids in the car, while she goes into a bar. The older child is trying to watch out for the younger child.
Another emotional part of the shows is when parents are told, that their child is in trouble for breaking a law. This show is one of the more riveting shows of old time radio but it wasn’t on the air long, so all we can do is enjoy the shows, as the policemen question the victims and criminals to get to the truth of whatever situation is being heard. This is true reality radio at its best.
The Great Gildersleeve is my favorite comedy of old time radio days. Harold Peary’s portrayal of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve is right on the money. His character was first heard on Fibber McGee and Molly, but he later had his own show with him, as the water commissioner of Summerfield, less than two years after his first appearance on Fibber McGee and Molly.
Gildersleeve’s home consisted of his nephew Leroy and his niece Marjorie and the cook named Birdie. Gildersleeve comes off as a bombastic oaf, who likes to be in charge of whatever is going on at the time. He also has an eye for the girls and is intent at Christmas time to maneuver the girls, to where they will be standing under the mistletoe.
I never tire of hearing the same Christmas shows, since they represent so well, what Christmas was like in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It is funny hearing Gildersleeve worrying about how much someone is spending on his Christmas present. He is determined to spend not one penny more than what someone spends on him
Richard LeGrand who portrays the local druggist Richard Peavey is one of my favorite characters on the show. The mild-mannered Peavey is an excellent contrast, with the more in-your-face Gildersleeve. His drugstore is an oasis away from the turbulent Gildersleeve home, which always seems to be in chaos.
Judge Hooker played by Earle Ross and Gildersleeve have a tempestuous relationship, that keeps them from being on good terms most of the time. He is also the opposite of Mr. Peavey and I can’t recall the two of them interacting much on the show.
The show to me seemed to lose its spark, when Harold Peary left the show. I have nothing against Willard Waterman, who was in a lose-lose situation trying to replace Peary, but nobody could really replace Peary.
I have only listened to 38 of the over 500 shows in the series.
CBS Radio Workshop was one of the most innovative shows during the old time radio era. I liked Program #6 The Voice of the City in which life on New York streets was recorded. I also enjoyed Evening on Broadway and it probably better depicted the sounds, of people talking to each other on a busy sidewalk.
The Enormous Radio program in the series of shows on the CBS Radio Workshop was about a radio that picked up the conversations of neighbors, instead of regular radio programs.
Ex-Urbanites was a dramatic presentation of how city-dwellers moving to the suburbs, found out that the suburbs were not as great, as they expected and the travel especially became a burden.
There are too many excellent programs to mention them all, but this first link will take you to where you can read about the CBS Radio Workshop and the second to a website, where you can actually listen to the shows.
Those who want to only listen to the shows and are not interested in buying them for themselves, there are many websites, that make it possible to hear hundreds and in some cases thousands of shows for free.
Archive.org is one of the best sites online to listen to free old time radio shows.
OTR.net has over 12,000 free old time radio shows to listen to, including 442 Fibber McGee and Molly shows, 610 Jack Benny shows, 468 Great Gildersleeve shows and 406 Gunsmoke shows.
Radiolovers.com does not come close to the content of the above two websites and you will notice many of your favorite shows, that are missing from the list of shows. However there are some lesser-known shows that are on the list, that may not be found elsewhere on the internet.
Oldradioworld.com has a lot of the same shows found on the other websites, but still a good resource.
Oldtimeradiofans.com has some soap operas that aren’t mentioned in some of the other websites.
The following website is the best resource for old time radio information, since it lists most of the shows, that were ever broadcast on old time radio. The site may not be all-inclusive, but it is the closet thing out there. There are lists of old time radio programs and who was heard in each show and a list of actors that tells how many shows and lists the shows they were heard in.
This website has a wealth of information about old time radio.
This link within the above site takes you to a list of program logs that can be found. This list doesn’t include some of the better-known shows.
This is what the Mel Blanc Show page looks like:
To my knowledge there is no other website that has this many old time radio photos and ads. Someone could literally spend hours at this website.
The home page for the above sites has even more links to more old time radio information, plus has a lot of information about other nostalgic topics.
What old time radio means to me can be found in the old time radio shows, that remind me of a simpler time, when families ate dinner together at home and not at a crowded restaurant, except on special occasions.
What old time radio means to me…..
Listening to Gildersleeve arguing with Judge Hooker or Fibber McGee over the price of a Christmas present.
Listening to Kingfish trying to pull a fast one on the gullible Andrew H. Brown on Amos and Andy.
Listening to Joe Friday questioning a witness or criminal on Dragnet.
Listening to Mrs. Brooks the teacher talk in the car, as her student Walter Denton drives her to school. How many students drive their teachers to school today?
Listening to the criminals on This Is Your Life plan their next crime.
Listening to the sounds of Broadway on CBS Radio Workshop.
Listening to a live big band radio remote, when big band era was thriving.
Listening to the incessant doorbell ringing on Fibber McGee and Molly.
Listening to the contents of the closet crashing to the floor on Fibber McGee and Molly.
Listening to Boston Blackie and Inspector Faraday make sarcastic remarks toward each other.
Listening to Richard Diamond serenade his girlfriend Helen, after solving the crime for that show.
Listening to the Bickersons bickering with each other endlessly on The Bickersons.
Listening to Chester A. Riley act like a nincompoop in front of family and friends on Life of Riley.
Listening to the great organ music on Nick Carter.
Listening to Groucho Marx ask the same question over and over to a You Bet Your Life contestant.
Listening to Johnny Dollar itemizing his expenses out loud on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
Listening to the great sound on Gunsmoke…probably the best sounding old time radio show.