Wednesday, June 29, 2005

OTR Ratings

If you are interested in the top-rated radio shows of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, check out this site. You'll start to notice a lot of the same shows showing up in the top ten year after year. In fact, some of the top shows in the late 30s and early 40s were still in the top-ten into the 50s. I think this lack of turnover in new, popular programs contributed to OTR's demise. I mention this list because an OTR Digest reader asked about the ratings of The Shadow. To find numbers for that program you'll need to look in the Daytime/Weekend sections since it aired on Sundays before the primetime hours. Judging by a couple sample years The Shadow was consistently ranked at the top or near the top of the daytime/weekend division. Compared to the primetime numbers, though, the show would not have cracked the top-twenty.

Hillbilly Show

Prominent OTR fan and dealer Ed Carr has come across a previously uncirculated music show entitled "Leatherneck Jamboree." It's a fifteen-minute music show featuring country-western music. I'm not a big fan of these shows and even Ed admits he's only recently developed an interest after decades of OTR listening. Anyway, if this type of program is up your alley, you might want to watch for them on Ed's site.

War of the Worlds

A couple people in the OTR Digest point out a New York Daily News article about the original broadcast of the Mercury Theater's "War of the Worlds" play. I haven't read too much on this phenomenon but I've heard that the extent of the "panic" has grown over the decades to its near-mythological status. Read the article here. The writer even found an original player in that broadcast to interview. Arthur Anderson and Anthony Tollin are also quoted.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

OTR Philately

I was browsing through a book of United States Postage Stamps and realized that there were several stamps featuring films and movie stars, authors, artists, and other entertainers. But there was no set of commemorative stamps dedicated to old radio. I was planning a short blog encouraging OTR fans to write to the citizens commission that decides the content of future stamps when, behold, I discovered four stamps commemorating Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Abbot & Costello, and Fanny Brice. You can see them here. While there are plenty of other radio performers deserving of a stamp, at least we've got these. I need to poke around my stamp connections and see if I can't get a bunch to use for OTR-related postage.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Say Goodnight, Fred

Three weeks since my last update. Humbug. Joe Mackey does a great weekly compilation called "This Week in Radio History" that he submits to the OTR Internet Digest every week (subscribe if you haven't already). This week in 1949 the late, great Fred Allen closed out his show. He continued to appear on radio the next few years before passing away in 1956.

I'm not a big Fred Allen fan. I enjoyed reading both his autobiographies, Treadmill to Oblivion and Much Ado About Me. Unfortunatly, I haven't enjoyed his program as much. Of course, I haven't listened to that many episodes. It's hard to tell with some radio series; have I not listened to many eps of a series because I don't like it, or do I not like it because I haven't listened to many eps? Some series, admittedly, are an acquired taste.

I do think Fred's material dated much more quickly than, say, Jack Benny or Edgar Bergan. He was also a vicious satirist and satire doesn't necessarily translate well from one generation to the next (i.e. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal). Fred was also a qunitissential New Yorker, and New York jokes were common. Unfortunately, such geographical humor can be lost on those not as familiar with the locale under discussion.

From what I've read about Fred he comes across as the stereotypical brilliant but unsettled mind. He enjoyed many years of success but he never comes across as a happy, contented man in accounts of his life. He seemed to spend an inordiant amount of time fighting with station and advertising executives. He loathed the gimmicky quiz shows of the late '40s and toward the end of his radio career attacked them relentlessly.

Maybe that's part of the reason I tend to choose other comedy over Fred. Maybe Allen's image of a bitter, frustrated man leads me to subconciously gravitate toward other comedians without that baggage. How can I listen to Fred without flinching at his zingers aimed at the "suits," knowing that despite the jokes he made of their conflicts, they greatly affected his health? Fibber, Benny, Gildersleeve. It's impossible to say quantifiably that these programs were any better than Allen's, but they certainly had different public personas than did Fred.

Personally, I like my comedy light. Maybe that makes me shallow. I just want to laugh, not be intellectually challenged by a joke. Don't look down on me; we're all entitled to our own wistful vistas.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It's a Wrap

Referring to my childhood, of course. Last night I finally saw Revenge of the Sith, the final chapter of the Star Wars saga which was such an integral part of my younger years. I'd like to think that, with a wife, three kids, and a mortgage, I'd successfully transitioned to adulthood. This uncompeted series was the final loose end from my youth and with the release of this film that end is now neatly wrapped up. For the first time in my life there are no more Star Wars films to look forward to, and that's a bit disappointing. Granted, the last three weren't that great; the characters are pretty forgettable, the dialog was consistently lousy, and Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman weren't quite up to the large roles they attempted. Still, I don't think there is a better series of movies to completely transport the viewer to another world.

There are rumors of a television series and a steady stream of books enlarging the Star Wars story but they're just not the same. Star Wars was big and it was visual, which can't be pulled off in either of those media. The best thing Lucas could do now is leave the legend be. Finis.

Let me tie this into OTR, albeit very loosely. If you are a Star Wars fan and haven't listened to the NPR dramatization of the first film, do so. I don't know to what extent Lucas was involved in the production but it adds a lot of scenes and material that were not a part of the original film. The radio series is 6 30-minute episodes - 3 hours. The original film was only 2 hours or so. You do the math. To what extent these additions are "canon" I don't know, but it adds some depth to portions of the movie that were a bit thin. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were also dramatized but, to my recollection, are pretty faithful to the original films.

Monday, June 06, 2005

June Radio Recall

Per Jack French, editor of Radio Recall, the magazine of the Metro Washington Old-Time Radio Club:

"The June 2005 issue of RADIO RECALL is at the printers and soon will bein the mail to all subscribers. Included in this issue are: 1) Afeatured article by Maury Cagle, retired VOA employee, examining themystery of why the popular Tom Swift never made it to radio 2) Acolumn by Jim Snyder on "Watching" Baseball on Radio 3) Part 2 of KathyHammel's three part series on her discovery of previously uncirculated"Howie Wing" series of the Thirties 4) Rules for entering the FOTRscript contest (first prize $ 200) 5) A review of the new OTR series,"The Adventures of Captain Hudson" 6) An explanation by flight expertStephen Kallis, Jr. of the history of the Captain Midnight 7" recordissued in the mid 70s. 7) Details on how the Dionne Quintupletspromoted Carnation's "Contented Hour", a musical radio program in the30s. 8) Information on a new "Bobby Benson" discovery on an AFRS diskfrom 1949, an episode entitled "A Salute to a Soldier." All this andmore....For articles in past issues, go to for a look-see."

Looks fantastic! I may need to join the group just to get this journal.

Online Newspaper Database

From the Radio Researcher's Group comes this announcement: "The Godfrey Library has a on-line database of searchable newspapers that are a goldmine for anyone doing research in old time radio series . . . In many cases, you can find episode titles for series lacking them now. You can find a definite mention of many previously unknown series. It is really an otr researchers dream." This database was apparently designed for geneaology research but has now been put to good use for OTR-dom. There's a $35 subscription fee, however, so I can't give a review of the product itself. Still, if you're interested in doing some research on your favorite esries it sounds like a great opportunity.