One of the charms of investigating Old Time Radio shows is the element of mystery that often crops up. We aren’t talking about Mystery Programs necessarily, (although they can be a lot of fun in their own right) but mysteries about the surviving shows them selves.
Much of the mystery comes from the nature of surviving OTR shows. In some cases, beloved shows are well preserved because some one directly involved with the program thought to hold onto recordings of the show. This is the reason that Fibber McGee and Molly has survived; the sponsor, Johnson Wax, made it a point to keep a recording of each show they sponsored.
It needs to be remembered that for most of the radio era, audio recording was rather primitive. Shows that were put into syndication had to be recorded in a robust media, like a vinyl disk, but for the most part, if a recording was made, it would usually be made on a fragile acetate disk. Not only were they fragile, but they were relatively bulky, and when storage became scarce they were often destroyed or disposed of. In a few cases an enthusiast manged to get their hands on the recordings before they were destroyed, but even when this occurred, there may have been little or no information about the recording except for a small note scribbled on a faded label.
Recently I enjoyed listening to what appears to be a syndicated serial from the mid 1930s, Omar, the Wizard of Persia. Most sources make note of the popularity of Omar Khayyam as a symbol of oriental mysteries. But there is very little information about the show itself. One source says that it played for 200 installments over the Mutual Network. The recordings that are known to exists have the sound of a syndicated production; chiefly the long musical interludes at the beginning and end of each episode. The last of the known recordings appears to wrap up the story, ending with “Our mission is complete!” But there are a lot of unanswered questions, and the story had only progressed from the US to a bazaar in Damascus, not Persia, where it would have been expected to go.
I have a theory but unless there is an OTR enthusiast out there with more information, I don’t think I will be able to prove it one way or the other. My guess is that scripts for Omar were written for a 200 episode run, and they may have been performed over Mutual under the sponsorship of Taystee Bread. And the program may have been popular enough to try to sell in syndication. But it would have been difficult to sell a total of 200 episodes, so the 13th episode “quick close” was put together so that the smaller package could be sold.
Similar tactics have been noted for programs like Cruise of the Poll Parrot, which was designed to sell as an advertising vehicle for individual shoe stores.
If you have any further knowledge about Omar, Wizard of Persia, we’d love to hear from you