I have previously written about my affection for the spoken word of the radio for sporting events over that newfangled television contraption. I have a collection of old game broadcasts, old time radio shows, commercials, news, etc from the Golden Age of Radio. It actually proved quite useful to me when I was working on my novel as I could listen to what the news was on any given day. Things like that you can work into the novel as background noise, as it were. To me, the greatest radio call of all time was in the second Schmelling v Louis fight. When the announcer proclaims “Schmeling is down! The count is five!”, you can almost here the collective gasp of millions of Americans on the edge of their seats wondering if he’d stay down. (Spoiler alert: He did.) You can listen to the exact same broadcast from that night in 1938 here. Now, my personal favorite is from the final out of the 2004 World Series. As a Red Sox fan, I am a bit biased. Hearing Joe Castiglione with the final call: “It’s a ground ball stabbed by Foulke. He underhands it to first and the Red Sox are world champions! For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s world championship! Can you believe it!” I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
It should come as no surprise then, reader mine, that I also enjoy old time radio programs. I’m a big fan of the Radio Classics channel on SiriusXM (and no, this is not a paid advertisement.) So I got to thinking about which OTR programs are my favorite and why, and I thought I’d hit you with another of my favorite things lists. So here we go. My favorite OTR shows.
My all time favorite program is Tales of the Texas Rangers. Each episode details a case which takes place anywhere from the 30s to the early 50s. It details the actions of Ranger Jayce Pearson as he tackles crime across the State of Texas. It is a bit formulaic, as many OTR programs were. He’s usually called in to investigate a case beyond the abilities of the local authorities. There’s at least one scene where he rides off on his trusty steed Charcoal. Many episodes end in a fight or shootout, and he seems to get shot quite a bit, but don’t worry, he pulls through! I’m not sure why I like this one so much. It was only on for a couple of seasons. Maybe it is because I live in Texas. Maybe it is because I’ve known some actual Rangers. Who knows? One thing I can say is that it is great entertainment.
What can I say about Gunsmoke that hasn’t already been said? It’s the granddaddy of all OTR westerns. It launched the TV series and, in fact, continued to air on the radio for a while even while the television version was gaining traction. It could be because I have something of a crush on Miss Kitty. Anyway, what I like about this show is that it does not always have a happy ending. Sometimes, bad things happen and bad people get away with it. Furthermore, it does not shy away from controversial topics. (Alcoholism, spousal abuse, prejudice, etc) It was billed as an “adult” western. By that, it means it was for the enjoyment of adults, not that you had to go into the backroom of a seedy video store to listen to it. I urge everyone to listen to at least one episode. Odds are, you’ll get hooked.
Dragnet. Joe Friday is the man! Fighting crime and selling cigarettes! (Dragnet was brought to you by Fatima, America’s best long cigarette.) The radio program started in 1949 until 1957. It launched two television versions (50s and 60s) with Jack Webb playing Joe Friday on screen just as he did on the radio. It’s a noire=esque program with dark nights and dark deeds commonplace. It also tackles serious issues, such as the tragic episode about a young boy who finds his Christmas present early (a .22 rifle) and accidentally shoots and kills his friend. One thing that I find of great interest is that during the first season, each episode was dedicated to a police officer who died in the line of duty. The episodes signed off with giving the officer’s name, agency, and date of death. (Mostly during the 30s and 40s). I wonder why they abandoned that format going into the second season.
Tired of the everyday grind? Want to get away from it all? Do you dream of a life of romantic adventure? We offer you…..Escape! (cue dramatic music) That’s how this great action/adventure series begins. It rain from 1947 until 1954. Most episodes start with a person in a serious life or death situation and explain how they got there and how they extracted themselves. Many episodes were based on short stories, so if you listen, you’ll see some familiar story lines if you know your literature. It really is a great show to kick back and listen to, and it definitely lives up to its name. You’ll find yourself lost in exotic locales and, at least for twenty-five minutes, it provides you with some Escape!
So there you have it, Dear Reader. These shows are all over the internets, so you can find it for free to listen to if you are so inclined. But I’ll make another proposition. For those of you who watch football, try listening to the Super Bowl on the radio instead of watching it. I will. Even if my Saints are in it. Especially if my Saints are in it. When baseball season finally starts up again (seriously, can it start already), try listening to one game for every four that you watch. I think you’ll enjoy it.