1:59 PM 7/23/2017 — Once again, I’m forced to be minimalist regarding the write up for this week’s program. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping, and nothing I try seems to work, leaving me drained and irritable most of the following day. My apologies to everyone I’ve acted stupid toward. But this morning I forced myself to do what I haven’t done in at least a week: take an Egg McMuffin to Spruce Run, even though it’s an overcast morning. Thankfully, I had gotten the homily for today (Sunday) done last night.
And if you’re tuning into the Radio Theater anytime after Sunday, you may skip the above paragraph … had you the ability to go back in time.
Even though this week’s program was put together very quickly, I think everyone will like the episodes being presented. It’s just a coincidence that our program this week has some very good stories in it—not counting The Story Lady, unless you’re willing to stretch the meaning of “good.” Anyway, I hope you enjoy everything. And if you’re new to the Radio Theater, then scroll below and I'll tell you everything. Well, not everything. I won’t tell you how to get rich or the meaning of life, but I will tell you what Old Time Radio shows are currently being featured, and a little history about them.
The embedded player is located in between the radio and this text. If you can't see it, it's because your browswer doesn't support the player, but you can listen to the program by clicking here.
Each week, you'll be hearing a number of Old Time Radio Shows, spliced together into a single audio stream. What follows are descriptions—and a little history—of the various programs currently being featured, along with the date each one was added to the rotation:
1. Yours Turly, Johnny Dollar [added 5/14/2016]: You wouldn’t think that a mystery series about investigating insurance claims would be that popular, but CBS, in search of new ideas, decided to give it a try in 1948. The concept was unique in several respects, not the least of which being that, when it debuted in '48, it was the first major radio drama in which every episode was completely transcribed (recorded for later broadcast rather than performed live). It's premise was formulaic: someone is dead or something has been stolen or something has been burned down, and someone has filed an insurance claim asking for a bundle; and the insurance company, smelling a fraud, rings up “the man with the action-packed expense account, America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator,” to get to the bottom of things. Off our hero goes to exotic locales to confront equally exotic villains, pausing for the occasional romance with an even more exotic array of femme fatales. He works for a fee plus expenses, and the entire adventure is recalled in the form of items marked down in his expense account, which he then sends in a letter to the company that hired him—the last line of which gave this show it’s name: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Several actors played the role from 1948 through 1955, most of whom you've heard here over the years in other shows;—Dick Powell, Charles Russell, Edmund O’Brien, John Lund, Gerald Mohr—but, the most remembered by far is Bob Bailey, who played Johnny Dollar from 1955 until 1960, and whose tenure in the role saw even more innovations by CBS. In a throw-back to the early days of the 1930s serials, the network abandoned the usual weekly half-hour format in favor of a weekly adventure in fifteen minute daily installments airing Monday through Friday, giving each adventure a total run time of an hour and a quarter. The writers went wild with detailed complicated plots, and the lavish orchestral score by Amerigo Marino (later, music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra), along with the size of the cast, showed the money the network was willing to spend on the project.
When CBS shut down its West Coast operations and moved its radio drama unit to New York in 1960, Bailey, unwilling to relocate, gave up the role. Actors Bob Readick and Mandel Kramer each took the role for a year, and the show reverted to its original weekly half-hour format. The last episode aired in 1962, an event regarded by most OTR buffs as the end of America’s “Golden Age of Radio.” That same year, Bob Bailey appeared briefly in the last scene of the film The Birdman of Alcatraz as one of the reporters gathered around Burt Lancaster and Edmund O'Brien (who had also played Johnny Dollar from '50 to '52). Struggling with alcoholism in his later years, Bailey died at the age of 70 on August 13th, 1983.
For it's part, CBS, which had successfully aired such iconic shows as The Mysterious Traveler, The Whistler and Inner Sanctum over the years, stayed involved in radio drama longer than any other network, even longer than the old Mutual Broadcasting System which had pioneered it, resurrecting the concept in 1974 with its famous CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which aired through 1982.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was the longest running mystery drama on radio; for that reason alone it would be impossible to air the whole thing here on your Radio Theater, even if we heard nothing else; but, we will be running all of the Bob Bailey adventures (except for one for which one of the fifteen-minute installments is not extent). When the five-part adventures are exhausted, we'll just begin with a single half-hour episode.
2. The Story Lady [added 2/28/2015]: Each week's program continues with a brief, lighthearted visit from The Story Lady, a parody of childrens' shows produced in 1954, starring Joan Gerber and Byron Kane. Gerber (1935-2011) was a cartoon voice-over actress during the golden age of animation, when cartoons were produced mostly as the first feature in movie theaters. Absolutely nothing is known about this peculiar two-minute radio show, and most of the Old Time Radio (OTR) buffs who write about it make the mistake of listing it as a childrens' program ... which only means that they weren't listening very closely: the innuendos in the Story Lady's fractured fairy tales seem rather mature for anyone in 1954.
4. Tales of the Texas Rangers [added 12/5/2015]: Basking in the glow of the success of Dragnet,—and committed to the proposition that no success should ever go unexploited—NBC attempted to replicate its famous “police procedural drama” by projecting it into the popular genre of successful Westerns such as Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger. The result, Tales of the Texas Rangers, was so much like its inspiration that many have referred to it as “the Western Dragnet”; but there are some important differences: its central character, Ranger Jayce Pearson, doesn’t have a partner, but travels around his vast state assisting local law enforcement in solving baffling mysteries which—so we are told—are taken directly
from “official files.” Played by seasoned movie actor Joel McCrea, Pearson personifies the lonely lawman who rides the plains and who always gets his man, usually teamed up with a hapless but well-meaning member of the local constabulary who, conveniently, needs his help whenever he happens to just ride into town on his trusty horse, Charcoal; this, in spite of the fact that the show was set in modern times in which automobiles were the preferred mode of transportation (Pearson resorts to Charcoal when a Jeep is not available or there are no roads).
Tales of the Texas Rangers owed a lot of its popularity to the creative talents of its producer/director, Stacy Keach, whose son, Stacy, Jr., is familiar to my generation as television's Mike Hammer (and thanks to a kind listener for pointing out a previous error I made here). Keach, Sr., was a guiding light for crime and mystery dramas both on radio and television for many years and, like Jack Webb before him, was a stickler for authenticity, traveling to Texas and working closely with real-life Texas Ranger Captain Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, who remained technical advisor throughout the show’s two year run. Sponsored by Wheaties, the show held sway from July 8th, 1950, through September 14th, 1952; but, it's relatively brief life-span had more to do with the end of the Golden Age of Radio than with any fault in the program. In fact, in 1955 the show was adapted for television, and ran until 1957, with Joel McCrea reprising his role.
Other networks would replicate the “police procedural drama” in shows of their own, stretching the idea to its perceptible limits in shows such as Gangbusters, This Is Your FBI, and I Was a Communist for the FBI; but it was NBC which invented the genre with Dragnet, and successfully transplanted it to another place, if not another time.
5. Inner Sanctum Mysteries [added 11/12/2016]: Creator, producer and director Himan Brown (1910-2010), many years after his show had run its course, loved to tell the story of its genesis: in a studio where he once worked, the door to the basement gave off an ungodly creak whenever anyone opened it, and one day it occurred to him: he would make that door a star! It was a seminal moment in radio history, for the show that grew out of it would be remembered decades after radio itself ceased to be dramatically viable, ultimately mutating into a horror media mini-empire all it’s own. The campy, off-beat horrors of Inner Sanctum Mysteries began and ended with that creaking door. It was the greatest opening signature device ever created. Once that door was opened, it drew listeners into a dark, dank inner chamber of the mind where every week, for more than a decade, were staged some of the most farfetched, unbelievable and downright impossible fear-fests ever produced for a medium not known for restraint.
Though the show—which took its name from Simon & Schuster’s series of Inner Sanctum mystery novels—was a strange combination of horror and humor, the stories were played strictly for chills. No matter how strained the conclusion or how deep into his bag of tricks a writer had to dig to put it all together, there was never a hint that the dark world being presented was anything but real. At the same time, the yarns were introduced by a host who trotted out every conceivably ghoulish pun he could think up to liven the mood. The grim, creepy whine of the studio organ set the stage, becoming a star of the show in its own right, moaning out a worrying, fretting and macabre introduction for what was to follow. A doorknob turned and the door swung open slowly, the creaking agonized and broken. Then came Raymond, the host, with gruesome jokes about losing one’s head or hanging around after the show, or perhaps beating the high cost of dying: ectoplasm with a heaping helping of deep friend corn, and Raymond’s story was about to begin. This was the epitome of radio melodrama.
The early days of Inner Sanctum offered a generous mix of classics and original stories; and, if you like to hear familiar voices from the movies in your Old Time Radio shows, Sanctum will serve them up in abundance. Boris Karloff was a regular, heard in, among others, the Poe classics “The Telltale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Peter Lorre, George Coulouris, Paul Lukas and Claude Rains were also star performers, but it was Karloff who propelled it; already famous through his film portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster, he was heard more than fifteen times in this show between 1941-42 (most of this first season is, unfortunately, not extent). While the networks were under constant pressure from parents groups to roll back some of the graphic content, Karloff continually lobbied for more gore: his public, he argued, expected it. By 1943, Karloff was gone as a regular, returning only for the occasional guest role; but, the series never slowed down, and began to settle into its own niche with excellent performances by some of the unsung unknowns of New York’s radio industry, some of whom wouldn’t remain unknown for long: Richard Widmark, Larry Haines, Everett Sloane, Lesley Woods, Anne Seymour, Stefan Schnabel, Arnold Moss, and on and on.
Only on Inner Sanctum could a man be haunted for forty years by the wailing of his dead wife driving him to confess to her murder, only realizing afterward that the sound was the wind rushing through a hole in the wall where he had sealed up her body. Only here would a man be sentenced to to life in prison after committing murder to obtain a formula that made him immortal. Dead men were seen in crowds, ghosts fluttered in the window at midnight, voices wafted in the wind. What made the show so outre was the fact that, more often than not, everything was told from the point of view of the evil antagonist: the listener is made to share his anger, his madness, his paranoia; and, in the end, Raymond would return for the body count, throwing in just one more groaner of a pun before bidding his listeners a suitably creepy "Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?" as the door creaked shut.
Raymond, by the way, was Raymond Edward Johnson, who used his own first name. He would eventually be replaced by Paul McGrath in 1945, who had a somewhat brighter demeanor, but made up for it by being even campier.
This show was early, beginning life on the Blue Network (a progenitor of NBC) in January, 1941, then jumping around a bit, to CBS, ABC, and finally landing back on CBS for the final 1952 season. It bounced around in various time slots as well, and had a variety of sponsors over the years: Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Colgate, Lipton Tea, Bromo Seltzer, Mars Candy and, finally, Pearson Pharmaceuticals. Of the 536 episodes produced, only 153 are extent; your Radio Theater has been able to collect 141, and will present as many as can be put into listenable condition—so, this show will be in our lineup for a while. Don’t worry, you won’t be board.
Though underwritten by Simon & Schuster to promote the sale of their books, the show remained independent of them, and none of the episodes were based on them; but, the popularity of the series could hardly be contained on radio. During the height of its powers (1943 through ‘45), it spilled over onto the silver screen in six low-budget feature length films produced by Universal, all starring Lon Chaney, Jr.; and, in 1945, Himan Brown produced and directed a single season of an Inner Sanctum television series. And if the show’s creaking door opening sounds familiar, that’s because it would be used again in Brown’s last radio series: The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which ran from 1974 through 1982, with E. G. Marshall and Tammy Grimes as the hosts; when reruns of it were broadcast in the 1990s, Brown himself was heard mimicking Raymond’s famous sign-off line: "Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?" After a remarkable career during which he produced over 30,000 radio shows of every kind over seven decades, Brown’s own personal door creaked shut for the last time in 2010, just a few weeks shy of his 100th birthday.
Probably the most recognized of all old fashioned radios, the 1931 Philco Model 90 "Baby Grand" (used as our embedded player at the top of the page), often mistakenly referred to as a "cathedral radio," was an upgrade from the smaller Direct Current seven-tube Model 70, and was the first in the "Baby Grand" series to operate solely on Alternating Current. 106,050 were made, and sold for $69.50 each. 1931 was the last year that Philco offered Direct Current only radios, with most of the new models being superheterodynes, and able to operate on both AC and DC. It was also the first year that Philco offered battery powered radios, intended for the rural market, four years before the "Rural Electrification Act." Though most of these were floor consoles, a few of these were in the "Baby Grand" design.
The Phico Battery and Socket Power Company entered the radio market in June of 1928 with a group of models known collectively as the "511 series," a collection of both floor consoles and table top radios built around the same seven-tube chassis. Designed to operate on 105-115 volts of 60-Cycle Alternating Current, they could be tuned to between 550 and 1500 kilocycles of "Standard Broadcast," a fraction of what today is known as the AM Band (though this was the total broacast spectrum at the time). Although Philco had entered the radio market late, what made Philco's radios revolutionary was the built-in power transformer, which distinguished the radios from those of their competitors which required a speparate, large and cumbersome transformer. The Phico radios' weak point was the high-impedance magnetic speakers they used which, by 1928, were already becoming obsolete; moreover, the table top models were still quite large, covering the entire table, and requiring a separate, detached speaker. At a cost over $100.00 (vacuum tubes not included), they were clearly rich man's toys in those days. Nevertheless, Philco would finish the year in 26th place in the radio industry; not bad considering their radios had only been on the market since the latter half of the year.
Left: this 1928 Model 511 "Brown" is shown with a standard Model 211 Speaker on top. The speaker did not have to be placed on top, though most owners did; which begs the question why they didn't simply design a single unit. The reason may be that the already antiquated and fragile high-impedance speaker didn't last nearly as long as the radio. The "Brown" was the simplest model in this series; other models, though identical in shape and on the inside, had elaborately decorated exterior cabinets.
Right: the revolutionary seven-tube chassis with built-in power transformer, used in all the 511 series models, is shown here in a floor console undergoing a restoration. The yellow wire runs to the speaker located in the lower compartment. The speaker shield has been removed in this photograph. This console is relatively simple; later models would have extravagant features such as pull-out writing desks, turntables, and, in one model, a built-in telephone.
In 1930, the designers at Philco, in an attempt to reduce the size of the radios, compressed their chassis and intalled it in a decorative upright cabinet which they named the "Baby Grand." The first in the "Baby Grand" series, the beehive-shaped Model 20, was introduced in August of that year, and cost $49.50 (again, without the tubes). What followed was a series of upright radios which would become the image of the "old fashioned" radio with which most people today are familiar. During the next six years, Philco's many "Baby Grand" designs became more and more elaborate, as they sought to create stylistic works of art around the basic upright shape. At the same time, the chassis inside these radios became more advanced, offering such features as larger, lighted tuning dials, and, on a few models, a primative but unique automatic tuning feature, pre-set at the factory to the customer's specifications, which would stop the dial at certain points while being turned manually.
Left: the 1930 Model 20 was the very first radio in the "Baby Grand" series.
Middle: the 1931 Model 70, of which the larger Model 90 (shown as our embedded player) was an upgrade, was the last Philco radio to run solely on Direct Current. The two-toned finish shown here is not standard, but is the result of an "artistic license" in restoration.
Right: with its graceful lines and lighted dial, the 1932 Model 71B may be the most beatiful radio ever made, as can be seen in this newly discovered and fully restored example. This particular cabinet style would become one of Philco's most popular "Baby Grand" designs, and would be replicated in several newer models, with slight variations, in the years that followed.
By 1936, Philco had reduced the size of their chassis even further, and discontinued designing new radios in the "Baby Grand" series; however, they continued to offer alternate versions of newer radios in previously utilized "Baby Grand" designs for those who still desired the classic cabinet, even though the chassis they contained did not require a radio of that size. The last of these was the 1939 Model 39-70, a four-tube battery operated radio for use in rural areas, which sold for $29.95.
Contrary to popular myth, these radios were never known as "Cathedral Radios" or "Beehive Radios" until long after they had ceased to be produced and sold. These popular terms came into use only decades later, after the radios had become collectors' items. In their own time, all of Phico's table-top uprights were known as "Baby Grands," regardless of the shape of the cabinet.
Left: with its bold lines, circular speaker grill and minimalist single-knob control, the 1934 Model 84 was Phico's first venture into the world of Art Deco deisgn in a "Baby Grand" radio.
Middle: Philco dove head-first into an Art Deco world gone mad in the 1935 Model 16B. With it's sleek, elegant lines and two-toned finish, no Park Avenue penthouse could be without one.
Right: sometimes called the "Farm Radio," the 1939 battery-operated Model 39-70 was an uninspired design, built primarily for economy. Its tomb-stone shaped cabinet was the last of the "Baby Grand" designs, even though its four-tube chassis was originally built for a much smaller and more modern radio.
Below: nick-named the "Bullet," the 1937 Model 37-610T was one of Philco's first dual-band radios (the second band was Short Wave). Starting in 1936, all new Philco table tops were in a similar compact design; but, through 1939, their chassis would sometimes be placed in previously designed upright cabinets for sale to those who still wanted a classic "Baby Grand" radio.