6:21 AM 3/17/2018 — [Program 386] My hearing aid battery went dead while I was at the hospital today (Friday); and, while I always have two spares in my wallet, I was too tired and lazy to deal with it, so the volume levels on this week’s program are a crap shoot. I assume your computer or phone has a volume control.
We’ve reached episode 9 of 10 of “The Cobra King Strikes Back,” the third of four serials from the show Adventures by Morse that occupies the first slot on our program. Given the phlegmatic nature of this serial, it makes no sense to try and describe it. There’s a recap at the beginning of each episode so, if you haven’t been listening regularly, at least it will give you a frame of reference; but, don’t worry about it—even if this is your first time listening, everyone else is just as confused as you.
Rocky Jordan turns the tables on someone who’s been following him, which leads—no surprise to us—to a convoluted adventure in an episode called “Strangers Three,” which first aired on December 5th, 1948.
This week’s episode of Richard Diamond, Private Detective was so degraded as far as audio quality, that I spent my time re-sampling it rather than listening to it. Anyway, it’s in more-or-less listenable condition, and is called “Little Chiva,” from March 23rd, 1951. As an avid tobacco user myself, I really enjoy these commercials touting the health benefits of smoking.
When I chose The Story of Dr. Kildare as the latest addition to our spliced audio stream, I was drawn to it’s heartwarming charm, which provided a contrast to a line-up dominated by hard-boiled detectives. However, since I now work full-time in a hospital, maybe I’m souring on the contrived situations presented in this series. One thing, however, is accurate: everyone in the hospital knows everybody else’s business. This week’s medical dilemma is just such an occasion, as nosy “Nurse Parker Resigns,” from May 17th, 1950.
As to this week’s concluding show from Inner Sanctum Mysteries, it’s called “Cause of Death.” That’s all I know, since you and I will be listening to it together.
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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. Adventures by Morse [added 8/26/2017]: Carlton Errol Morse (1901-1993) was a Louisiana-born producer and journalist best known for his creation of the most popular and longest-running radio soap opera of all time, One Man's Family (1932-1959). In 1939 he created I Love a Mystery, an adventure serial in fifteen minute installments, with a complete story taking anywhere from ten to twenty episodes to complete. It aired on the West Coast Network and the Blue Network until the two had joined with the Red Network to form the modern NBC, on which it aired nationally through 1943, when it was picked up by CBS for a final season. It was revived in the late forties by the Mutual Broadcasting System, where it continued through the 1952 season, featuring such radio luminaries as Tony Randall in one of his first acting jobs; and, even earlier in 2011, your Radio Theater aired episodes that are extent from that Mutual revival.
Morse would go on to script and produce other adventure shows with similar characters and plot devices, including I Love Adventure and (the show we are now introducing) Adventures by Morse, which involved even more complicated and elongated plots—sometimes a single adventure would be drawn out for months. If you've ever been a fan of more famous and juvenile serials like Superman or Flash Gordon, you have Morse to thank for inventing the whole idea. When Morse died in 1993, he was rightly heralded as the father of the radio serial.
No one knows the precise dates for Adventures by Morse, but the fifty-two thirty-minute episodes are believed to have been produced in the mid-1940s; nevertheless, dates of production are uncertain. Several OTR enthusiasts posit that the entire series was broadcast in 1944, but the final two chapters of the adventure “It's Dismal to Die” clearly contain references to the end of the Second World War. Advertisements have been found for repeat broadcasts in 1946 and 1949.
Russell Thorson, who played the A-1 Detective Agency’s leader, Jack Packard, in Morse’s first adventure serial, I Love a Mystery, shines in this serial as the private detective Captain Bart Friday (though it’s not altogether clear what he’s captain of), starting out with no sidekicks; though in future adventures he would be joined by Barton Yarborough, who had played Doc Long in the previous series, with the regular cast increasing exponentially as the series progressed (Yarborough would go on to play Jack Webb's partner in the early episodes of radio's Dragnet). Your Radio Theater has, over the years, been able to collect almost all of the extent episodes, but only four adventures are complete and suitable for broadcast here. Each one consists of ten, half-hour installments. That means you’ll be on the edge of whatever you’re sitting on for the next forty weeks!
Of course, the draw-back to including a serial on this program is that no one installment is complete, with each one picking up where the last left off. But don’t worry: there’s a pretty good recap of the previous installments at the beginning of each new one, and maybe it will serve as an incentive for you to listen faithfully every week. The four adventures to be presented are: “The City of the Dead,” “Dead Men Prowl,” “The Cobra King Strikes Back” and “The Land of the Living Dead.” And if those aren’t provocative titles, I don’t know what could be!
Combining the elements of mystery, adventure and horror, Morse pulls out all the stops in the first story, which would become the reference point for the rest of the series, with memories of it being referred to in almost all the subsequent adventures; and, the mysterious tolling bell of the ruined chapel at the far end of the cemetery, which figures prominently in the first adventure, will be retained as an opening vehicle in the three other adventures which follow.
So, turn down the lights and settle in for the next forty weeks as your Radio Theater presents “The City of the Dead,” which takes place entirely in an old, abandoned cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco; then, ten weeks later, “Dead Men Prowl,” which follows immediately afterward, on a sparsely populated island across the bay from San Francisco, where Capt. Friday has a vacation home; ten weeks after that, “The Cobra King Strikes Back” in Cambodia, in the remote jungles of French Indochina, where Captain Friday and his assistant, Skip Turner, encounter ware-wolves and worse; and, for the final ten weeks, “The Land of the Living Dead,” which begins in San Francisco, but soon finds Capt. Friday and Skip on their way to the wild jungles of South America.
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.