Thursday, November 15, 2012


"The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both 'the Six Shooter'"

Although I don't waste the time I used to on political blogs, I do spend a lot of time on the internet. I still use it as a massive research library, and play games like Pirate 101 (lots of fun, I'll probably write about that some time in the future) and World of Warcraft.  And while I'm doing anything other than writing, I like to have something to listen to.
When radio first came out, companies had to do a lot of learning about what worked and didn't, how to make money with the radio, and how to produce content that people would want to listen to.  The most successful radio stations had a lot of variety, like modern television.  They found out early that music was popular, and all the major stations (the modern alphabet networks like CBS) and radio shows done live by dramatic reading became very popular.
Shows like The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and theater programs such as the Mercury Theater (with Orson Wells) became tremendously popular for giving cheap entertainment over the air that the whole family could enjoy.
Remember, before television, before video games, before even electric lights outside in most areas, people came home when the sun went down.  You'd gather and read or chat or play a game, draw, sew, etc in the light before you went to bed.  The whole family could sit by the radio and listen to the adventures of Private Investigators, enjoy tales of cowboys, and laugh along with comedians.  It not only brought the family together, but solidified a culture which shared themes and characters.
These shows were careful not to cross certain lines, avoided racy and controversial subjects, and had themes of heroism, good triumphing over evil, hard work, and virtue that were passed on through entertainment to generations.
The radio shows actually were popular all the way through the 50s, as television did not really become so common in houses until the 60s, and had limited broadcast hours.  And thanks to the internet, you can have it all back to enjoy right now.
I tend to have a couple options open to create my own mix.  I don't even mind the ads, because they are so dated and often humorous to listen to.  Advertisers were more than willing to lie outrageously and just invent crap to sell their product.  Its pretty fun to listen to the differences between modern ads and the past.
There are a lot of resources online to use, but my favorites are's Old Time Radio site and Top 100s Radio (formerly Nutsie) which gives you the ability to choose a specific year, or decade, and listen to lots of songs from that time period.  Between these two I can craft a whole day's programming.
For instance, I'll usually start with Gunsmoke, then listen to a few songs, then do a Jack Benny show, then The Adventures of Frank Race, then a few more songs, then The Adventures of Phillip Marlow, then The Six Shooter, and so on.  By mixing back and forth you can really get a feel for a full day's radio programming, particularly as most of the shows have ads in them.
There's some pretty awful stuff out there, just cheesy melodrama you want to avoid.  Some of the shows are of really low quality audio so its hard to hear them, but they're all fun to listen to.
Gunsmoke is really the best of the best.  Starring William Conrad (later known for his role as the PI Cannon in the 70s), the show was created to be a "western version of Phillip Marlow"), and is acclaimed almost universally as an incredibly realistic and high quality show.  Certainly it is entertaining, unexpected, and surprisingly smart and cliche-busting.  I have heard a few episodes that weren't the best of the genre, but they're all well above the average, and there are a lot of them out there.  Gunsmoke ran pretty late, 9 years all the way into 1961.  Then of course, it became a TV show (they replaced the stout Cannon despite his spectacular voice and skill with the role with the more classically handsome James Arness who did quite well also.  But then, he had almost a decade of previous perfection in the role of Matt Dillon to study).
Also very good is the PI show Jeff Regan.  Starring a younger Jack Webb for the first year, then Frank Graham from 49-50, this was a surprising gem to find.  I'd never heard of the show, but it is about a typical grizzled tough guy PI who works for a transparently greedy boss named Lyon who will take any case, as long as it pays.  Regan who is basically a good guy has to find a way to bring about justice and truth while working with scumbags and crooks and not getting fired for his $10 a day plus expenses.  Webb's voice is terrific, and less wooden than his later work, and the show really works.
Another surprise was Frank Race.  Race was a lawyer before WW2, then worked for the OSS and came out as a sort of investigator.  Race's primary work was insurance fraud, although he'd take any case just to find out what happened and pursue justice and truth.  He traveled all over the world and the show has a bit of a James Bond feel to it as he moves through Istanbul, the South Pacific, and to various exotic locales dealing with French spies, smugglers, and masterminds.
The Six Shooter was the most surprising show, however.  This again I'd never heard of, but while its of fair quality, the most astonishing fact was that Jimmy Stewart at the height of his fame was the main character.  Jimmy Stewart's trademark delivery combines with fairly ordinary but interesting cowboy episodes, and is highlighted by Stewart's whispering of action scenes, lending a sense of urgency and suspense to them, like you're in the middle of it and he's trying to avoid giving away his position.  The show only ran a year.
Although the Nero Wolfe show isn't as sophisticated, intelligent, or clever as the books, I really enjoy the show.  Part of the charm is that Wolfe himself is played by the irreplaceable Sidney Greenstreet (best known for playing The Fat Man in The Maltese Falcon), but the writing is just hilarious and charming and while I think Archie is an unlikable cad in the books, I can't help but like him in the radio show.  Unfortunately they ran though about 5 guys playing Archie and some of them aren't as good as the first man (Lawrence Dobkin), but Greenstreet's lazy, brilliant, and condescending Wolfe is always great.  The show you want is the third series (The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe) because the first two weren't as great and Greenstreet wasn't in them.
In short, there's a lot of great stuff waiting for you, from classics you'll know like The Shadow and Burns & Allen to unknowns you will find surprisingly fun, its worth tapping into when you want some entertainment you can be sure is not just clean but will be fresh and straight forward.
And if you want to learn and study things you've not heard much about, I strongly recommend Ligonier Ministries, where you can get not only regular teaching by the brilliant Dr R.C Sproul, but the last ten or more conferences where you can get talks by John McArthur, Sinclair Ferguson and many others for free.  If you're a Christian, I can't recommend these highly enough.  If you aren't... get ready to be challenged.
There's a lot to listen to out there.  Give it a try, you may find yourself hooked.  And since its audio its low bandwidth and won't take up much of your computer's resources, freeing it for something else, like pet battles in WoW.
Its a great way to escape your problems and worries for a little while, and it costs you nothing more than your internet connection.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the info on the radio shows. I had no idea that there was even access to those things out there. I am totally going to check them out.

Eric said...

I download a lot of podcasts to my phone to listen to while driving, I will try adding some of these.

Awhile back I had downloaded some episodes of an old Sherlock Holmes radio show from the 50's to my phone and tried to queu it up during a family road trip... it got a tepid response.

vanderleun said...

To get some material that is up to date, check out

Philip said...

I always liked Johnny Dollar myself.

Christopher R Taylor said...

You're right, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar is a great show. You can never go wrong with Dick Powell. For a great film with both Conrad and Powell in it, check out Cry Danger.

Anonymous said...

I've always liked the "Lives of Harry Lime" starring Orson Wells.