Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ten Great Old-Time Radio Broadcasts
The following are some of the shows in my own OTR collection that I consider to be among the very best. They are all so good that rather than try to rank them, I will just list them in alphabetical order.
1. Arthur Godfrey Time (7/8/46 and 7/9/46). Even though these are two separate programs, the connection between them is so strong that they should be experienced as a single entity. One of the most famous and long-running theme songs in all of radio history was "Seems Like Old Times," strains of which began countless Arthur Godfrey Time shows. In the Monday broadcast (7/8/46), Arthur asks whether any of the regulars knows the lyrics to the song, and amusingly no one does. Marshall Young promises to learn them by tomorrow, and true to his word comes back the next day and gives a splendid rendition.
There are many other enjoyable moments in these two shows. On Monday the sheet music to a new song called "Love Means the Same Old Thing" is brought out. No one is familiar with the song, which has a beautiful but tricky melody. When Arthur tries to perform it by a sight-reading, he blows it. Marshall then makes an attempt, but fares no better. Finally the marvelous Janette Davis steps up and nails it perfectly.
Much more, including Hank Sylvern and his orchestra, and The Jubilaires.
2. Bachelor's Children (7/8/38). Although my collection of radio soap operas is pretty extensive (over eight hundred episodes), I will exercise some restraint and include only one on this list. Several years ago when I began collecting OTR materials, the very first soap opera I heard was an episode of Bachelor's Children. I liked it so much that I began listening to lots of other soaps, and thus it acted as the gateway to all the ones I have acquired since. I still consider this serial to be one of the best of the soaps.
This episode (not the same one) is special because it is the one in which Janet, for whom Sam has suffered an unrequited love for years, finally realizes that she loves him as well. To those familiar with the series, you might say that Janet literally falls for Sam!
3. Dimension X. "The Martian Chronicles" (8/18/50). You don't have to be a science fiction fan to be enthralled by this transcendent masterpiece. Based upon Ray Bradbury's famous novel, this adaptation is riveting, profound and poetic. It explores man's capacity for greatness, creativity and survival in the face of the self-destructiveness, tragedy and doom that constantly stalk us.
4. Lux Radio Theater. "Madame Curie" (9/16/46). This series is of such uniformly high quality that I could have picked any number of episodes for inclusion on the list. I am partial to this one because it is both a stirring, sometimes electrifying representation of two of the most famous scientists in history, and also a convincing and beautiful love story. Stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.
5. The Mercury Summer Theater. "The Hitchhiker" (6/21/46). This is my candidate for one of the most frightening OTR broadcasts. Orson Welles stars as a motorist on a cross-country trip who keeps encountering the same ghastly hitchhiker time after time. Even in today's more sophisticated age, the resolution of this story is still shocking and disturbing. Should be listened to at night with all the lights turned off.
6. The Mysterious Traveler. "The Most Famous Man in the World" (11/20/51). Here is a remarkable story which offers a little bit of everything. It is eerie and ominous, exotic and charming, and in the end somehow consoling and hopeful. At the beginning, the narrator invites us to come along for the ride "as we meet two people who haven't even been born yet." It is a ride well worth taking.
7. On Stage. "Call Me a Cab" (2/21/53). An acclaimed series starring wife-husband team Cathy and Elliott Lewis. The story here has to do with two lonely people who share the same fantasy but don't know it. There is a distant, dreamlike quality throughout that calls to mind the human lament for all our lost days and years.
8. Sundial with Arthur Godfrey (9/21/39). I have written at some length about this program in another posting (see "Old-Time Radio's Complete Day"). The recording of WJSV's entire broadcast day from September 21, 1939 is the most prized item in my collection, and the Sundial show is the best part of it. For those who like nostalgia, or who appreciate old-time radio as a source of social and cultural history, nothing surpasses this.
9. Suspense. "The Search for Henri LeFevre" (7/6/44). Of the more than sixty episodes of Suspense in my collection, this is my favorite. The brilliant, uncompromising script by Louise Fletcher (she of "Sorry, Wrong Number" fame) is accompanied by some of the most beautiful, haunting music I have ever heard. Near the end, when you gradually realize just what is really happening, is when the chills come. Gripping and awe-inspiring.
10. Wayside Theater. "Food for Thought" (1/22/39). Fans of light romantic comedy will find Chicago's Wayside Theater a gem. Olan Soule and Patricia Dunlap make the most of a succession of consistently delightful scripts. Here we see what happens when a man on a strict diet of fruit juice, raw carrots, fresh greens and apples runs head on into a meal of roast pork with stuffing, cheese dumplings, sweet potato pie and black walnut cake.


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