Old Time Radio shows are more than simply historical audio artifacts. They are a high entertainment value. The stories and humor are timeless. Although they come from a supposedly “more innocent time”, the plots and stories you will hear in radio drama and situation comedies are still being used on TV sitcoms and dramas today.
One of the terrific things about getting into Old Time Radio, or OTR, is that it is a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed just about anywhere without interfering with what is going on in your world. Listening to a 50 year old or earlier radio program is not as current or high tech as enjoying the latest viral video. However, it is difficult to really enjoy a video while you are cleaning the house, fixing a meal, walking the dog or taking the kids to the park. You can even enjoy your OTR programs while driving. The half-hour or 15 minute format of these old programs make them an easy fit into a commute, shopping trip or a road trip. With a portable MP3 player, you can even enjoy your OTR while standing in line at the supermarket.
What sort of programming can you find when you get into OTR? Almost any type of program that you can see on television was first tried on the radio, so the variety is nearly endless. Many OTR enthusiasts keep a collection of comedy, mystery and dramas on hand.
A great way to get some extra smiles into your day is listening to Radio Comedies. The Situation Comedy follows basically the same formula we all know from TV. It is a miniature drama driven by characters that listeners come to know and love who find themselves in a new ridiculous situation in each episode. Great Radio Sitcoms include Life of Riley, Blondie, My Favorite Husband starring Lucille Ball, and The Great Gildersleeve.
Another comedy format, which was wildly popular during the Golden Age, was the Hosted Variety Program. These programs were originally built around some of Vaudeville’s best performers. Along with the host was an orchestra, usually a singer, and a cast of supporting players. Some of their routines may have been old fashioned, but they knew how to work an audience, both in person and on the air. Two of the best were Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Bob had a gift of connecting with his audience, which made him popular with the servicemen he loved and respected. Jack created a character who was nothing like himself in real life, but with all his supposed negative qualities, audiences loved him because he allowed himself to be the butt of the jokes.
Mysteries and crime dramas are fun listening because they ask the listener to solve a puzzle, and that puzzle is often murder! Crime shows are often divided into hard and soft boiled. Soft boiled detectives are usually more cerebral, looking for the clues to find out Whodunit. The hard boiled sort are more action packed with no-nonsense heroes who always get their man, and usually the pretty girl, as well!
Radio drama takes on many forms, from the daily “cry in your dishwater” world of the Soap Operas to retelling of historical events to horror and science fiction stories to Hollywood Movie plots adapted to the radio. Some of the great anthology programs like Suspense, Escape, General Electric Theater and NBC University dramatized great works of fiction for the radio audience. Cavalcade of America profiled real people and events with remarkably high production values. Shows like Lux Radio Theater, Academy Award Theater and Hollywood Star Time allowed folks who could not get to the movie house on a regular basis a way to enjoy Hollywood productions before the days of DVD or even VHS tapes!