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Showing posts from 2011

“The Showplace of a Nation,” Radio City Music Hall Opens December 27, 1932

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On December 27, 1932, Radio City Music Hall opened its doors to a packed house of 6,000 people. Billed as  “The Showplace of a Nation,” Radio City Music Hall enamored the audience with over 500 performers on its opening night. Some notables included dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, vaudeville actor/film star Ray Bolger, the newly formed Rockettes and a performance by a military band.  Unfortunately, the programming lasted much longer than expected, causing half the audience to exit midway through the event. Subsequent events and programs were fine-tuned and changed. In 1933, Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) pictures began to sponsor and premier films on a regular basis. Over the years, entertainment would extend to symphony orchestras, stage productions and beginning in the 1970’s, rock and pop concerts.  At 60 feet wide and 100 feet deep, the Great Stage of Radio City Music Hall has supported thousands of performers over a span of nearly eighty years (which includes the golden age

Radio Vaudevillians at Christmas

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Christmas seems to bring out the best in most of us, even when our best isn't that much to brag about! In 1936, Gracie Allen takes time out from her crush on Tony Martin to share with us a play she has written, Charles Dickens ' A Christmas Carol . George Burns is surprised, having thought that Charles Dickens had written it, but in the tradition of the Burns and Allen Show , he is corrected by his lovely bride. Of course for Gracie, we are haunted by the Ghosts Radio Past, Present and Future. These ghosts wind up being impressions of Eddie Cantor , Jack Benny , and Fred Allen to George's Scrooge, the Joke Miser, who steals everyone else's jokes! The real  Fred Allen  celebrates Christmas of 1937 with Portland Hoffa and the rest of the Town Hall Tonight crew, joined by his old Vaudeville pal, Jack Benny. This is a fun paring for Old Time Radio fans, taking place within a few months of the opening salvos of the famous Jack Benny, Fred Allen Feud . Be

WWII Post Cards from the Troops

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While listening to  Mail Call  the other day I got to thinking about the real Mail Call. When I entered the service, mail call was still a big deal; we would all live for our letters from home. When the mail bags came on board, if we weren't working or on watch we would haunt the passageway until "Stamps", the under-appreciated Postal Clerk, could get the letters and packages sorted. By the time I left the Service, emails and satellite phones had begun be the most important means of keeping in touch with the folks back home. Although these were immediate means of communication, electronics can not replace a letter that your sweetheart has taken the time to write and held in her hand. Finding time to write has always been a problem for the serviceman. That is part of why the picture postcard was so great for G.I.s. The picture of cartoon on the front of the card would help to frame the message that he was trying to send home, which he didn't have the time t

Christmas With Bob Hope and the Troops

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Bob Hope is best known for his Bob Hope Christmas Shows for the Troops. His first War-time show was aboard the RMS Queen Mary when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Hope spoke to the captain and offered to put on a special performance to help calm the nervous passengers. The 1939 Christmas Radio Show of the Pepsodent Show is one of the few Bob Hope Christmas Shows that doesn't revolve around entertaining the troops. (Which is too bad, the program, which features a long skit of Bob opening a toy factory for Christmas, is filled with way more suggestive innuendo than you would expect a radio show to get away with! The troops would have loved it!) Bob gave his first USO show at March Field in May of 1941. During the war he traveled extensively to entertain the troops where ever he could, making many appearances on AFRS programs like Command Performance and GI Journal , and making live appearances whenever and where ever high could. He seemed to take special pleasure in being ov

Good Night, Harry Morgan

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Harry Morgan was best known and loved for his long time roll as Col. Henry Blake  Col. Sherman T. Potter on TV's M.A.S.H. Morgan's career started as a supporting character actor in films, including To The Shores of Tripoli (1942), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), and High Noon (1952) , along with many others. Morgan was originally billed himself as Henry Morgan, and later as Henry "Harry" Morgan. Finally he took on the name Harry in order to avoid confusion with the popular radio humorist of the time . On the radio he hosted Peter Lorre 's Mystery in the Air during the 1947 season. He also made several appearances on This is Your FBI . On TV he found some success on early situation comedies before landing what would be considered his signature role and Sgt Joe Friday's partner, Bill Gannon, on TV's Dragnet . Morgan had been a guest early in the radio version of  Dragnet , only he played a jewel thief rather than a cop. Jack Webb had worked with

A Grasping, Covetous Old Sinner: Christmas Carol Old Time Radio Shows

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It is almost embarrassing to try to produce an introduction to Charles Dickens ' A Christmas Carol , perhaps the most loved of Christmas stories after the one told in the gospels of Mathew and Luke. Dickens began writing   A Christmas Carol  in the fall of 1843, and completed the story in six weeks; the first edition was released on Dec 17, 1843. Although the author himself made little profit from the book itself, the novella was wildly popular, first in Great Britain, which was experiencing a revival of Christmas traditions at the time, and eventually in the New World, achieving wide circulation by the end of the Civil War . After the initial publication, Dickens returned to the story many times to refine elements of the book. Finally adapted it was for listening rather than reading. Dickens himself read the book in public for the first time in 1852 at the Birmingham Town Hall. But the story would grow beyond Dickens . America has always been noted for quickly ado

The Request Performance Sign In Log

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Those of us who enjoy Old Time Radio for its great entertainment value often forget that the programs are also a snapshot of history. The shows themselves, however, aren't the only surviving artifacts from the history of broadcast. A case in point is the Sign-In Log from the program Request Performance . The program was a "civilian version" of the Wartime AFRS program Command Performance . The idea of both programs was that the listeners (troops stationed overseas for  Command Performance , and the general listening public for the post-war version) would write in with requests for specific performers in unique situations. The producers made it no secret that the most original requests would get the most attention. Nonetheless, Command Performance did tend to feature the sound of a lot of starlets marching in combat boots. The Sign-In Log was kept in the studio, and signed by the performers at the end of the live broadcast. The Sign-In Log sheets were l

Christmas Radio Serials for Children: Cinnamon Bear, Jump Jump and the Ice Queen, & Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon

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Serial stories were always a great way to attract the kids to sit still in front of the radio on a regular basis. A 'cliff-hanger' ending to each episode, compelling characters, and a fun story were enough to bring the kids back every afternoon for shows like Jerry of the Circus , and Magic Island . The syndicated serials followed a pretty standard formula; there would be plenty of long musical interludes over which a local broadcaster could place advertising into the fifteen minute episodes. Of course, in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas there is a the added anticipation of waiting for Santa Claus and the magic of the holiday! The earliest and most loved of the Christmas serials is The Cinnamon Bear , first broadcast in 1937. The program was produced in Hollywood for TransCo, with a high-powered radio cast featuring Barbara Jean Wong , Gale Gordon , and Joseph Kearns. Local sponsors in several markets made The Cinnamon Bear a Christmas tradition, especially

Dennis Day, "Christmas For Carol": Christmas in Suspense!

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Young Dennis Day was Jack Benny 's tenor from his radio premier in 1939 until the end of The Jack Benny Program on both Radio and Television. During the 1964-65 TV season, Jack kept delivering lines like "That crazy kid drives me nuts..." Baker was 47 at the time. Dennis Day  as a bright-eyed if somewhat scatter-brained young man was a hard type-cast to shake. Even Suspense! , which was known for casting comedians in horror , took advantage of the fresh-faced persona. In "Christmas for Carol",  Day  lays a young husband who is in a desperate situation. He learns that his wife will require bed rest and a nurse's care for the remainder of her pregnancy. He knows that his small salary from the bank won't cover it. He does learn that an older couple has withdrawn their life's savings that day, but how can that help him? Through some unsavory contacts he passes the information to a local hoodlum. Soon he is in over his head, and having a crisis

"Quiz Kids" Christmas

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Quiz Kids  aired on Sundays evenings and had a devoted following of both adults and children on the Blue Network.  Hosted by Joe Kelley of  National Barn Dance , the show featured a panel of youngsters who had been selected for their intelligence and wit. But working with kids is never a sure thing! Kelley however, who claimed to be no intellectual and couldn't have answered the questions if they weren't printed on his flash cards, was expert at putting the kids at ease during the broadcast of the Quiz Kids radio show . On one  Christmas Radio Show   questions included: "What are the best reasons to prove there is a Santa Claus?"Identify these Christmas Belles,""Identify these Character's from Dickens by these quotes," and "Is there a Santa Claus." Read more about radio quiz programs...

Himan Brown: Legendary Radio Producer

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Legendary Producer/Director/Creator, Himan Brown's productions included audio works such as Inner Sanctum , The Thin Man , Radio Mystery Theater , Terry and the Pirates , Bulldog Drummond ,   Dick Tracy , Adventure Theater , Grand Central Station , and an endless list of daytime soap operas . Hyman Brown On accepting his American Broadcast Pioneer Award "If you stop to think about it you’ll have to admit that listening has become a lost art these days. Who really listens? Because, really, who has to? But, the basic appeal of radio drama was and is the fact that you have to listen if you want to follow the story. It isn’t enough to merely “hear” it.  You have to listen. The word listen implies a conscious effort to pay attention…to participate. All the senses are activated…the curiosity is sparked…the imagination is fired, and the listener finds himself participating! He is a collaborator. In his brain he matches a face and a body to the voice. In his mind

Omar Wizard of Persia Old Time Radio Show

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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 old radio show. 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 si 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 wh

Journey Into Space: Old Time Radio Shows

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In the mid 1950's the Light Programme service had the idea that a Science Fiction series would be popular. The assignment was handed over to producer Charles Chilton. Chilton didn't have any background in science, or science fiction, but the general thought was that if he could produce a successful  western  from London ( Riders of the Range had six seasons, ending in 1953) he should be able to handle a trip to the moon! Originally scheduled for eight episodes,  Journey to the Moon  proved to be some what tedious listening through the first four episodes, as the "ground work" was established for a moon launch using the best guesses of the potential technology from a 1953 perspective. Once the mission "got off the ground", following the launch of the spacecraft in episode 5, the popularity soared as well, and the series was extended to 18 episodes (rerecorded the original series for overseas distribution in 1958, as  Operation Luna . This time the story