Ten great old-time-radio shows you can hear right now

One of my presets on my SiriusXM car stereo satellite radio is channel 148, Radio Classics.  Hosted by radio historian and preservationist Greg Bell, the channel shares a melange of restored radio dramas, comedies, Westerns and anthology shows from the golden age of old-time broadcast.  Many of these shows even contain the original commercials from way back then.

Now in the past, I’ve blogged about a more recent old-time-radio drama, the 1980’s-era CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which was my first introduction to radio’s “theater of the mind.”  But on SiriusXM’s Radio Classics, I can listen to the shows from their original broadcasts and constructions.  I can hear the double-entendre humor that Charlie McCarthy could get away with, considering that McCarthy was a tuxedo-wearing ventriloquist’s dummy.  I could enjoy the surreal humor of Fibber McGee and Molly, or of the Phil Harris and Alice Faye show.  And as for Westerns and dramas…

Here, let me share some episodes of these programs here.  You will enjoy.  Trust me.

OUR MISS BROOKS

Eve Arden starred in this workplace comedy as Connie Brooks, an overworked and underpaid teacher at Madison High School.  In addition to dealing with her overbearing principal Mr. Conklin, her perpetually puppy-loved student Walter Denton, and her absentminded landlord Miss Davis, Connie Brooks pined away for the love of biology teacher Philip Boynton… and some of the repartee and humor on the show bordered on the ribald.

THE WHISTLER

Sponsored by the Signal Oil Company, this West Coast network radio show featured Bill Foreman as The Whistler, an observing narrator of murder and horror stories.  He comments on the perpetrator almost getting away with the crime… and will also taunt the perpetrator all along the way, up until the final twist.

THE PHIL HARRIS / ALICE FAYE SHOW

Bandleader Phil Harris and his movie-star wife Alice Faye present this screwball situation comedy.  The show features veteran radio actor Elliot Lewis as Frankie Remly, the lead guitarist in Phil Harris’ studio band – and who always has an alcohol-fueled scheme to make some money.

THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM

Phil Harris’ radio career began with the Jack Benny Program, in which actor-comedian Jack Benny interacted with his gang of friends – including gravel-voiced valet Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, girlfriend (and real-life wife) Mary Livingstone, rotund announcer Don Wilson, and others.

GUNSMOKE

One of the longest-running television dramas, Gunsmoke originated on radio, with William Conrad as Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall.  This show featured many adult-themed progressive concepts for a 1950’s radio drama, and in many cases Matt Dillon only drew his weapon to protect himself or someone else.  But he never backed away from a fight.

YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR

Several actors portrayed the insurance investigator with “the action-packed expense account,” but most old-time radio fans agree that Bob Bailey’s performance as Johnny Dollar ranks among the best.  He was an independent insurance investigator who traveled around the country – and in some cases, around the world – reconciling claims and battling crime.  And during the 1956-57 season, Johnny Dollar shows were spread over five weekdays in 15-minute serialized episodes.  Here’s one such episode.

FIBBER McGEE AND MOLLY

This surreal comedy featured a happily married couple living at 79 Wistful Vista – in the town of Wistful Vista – and their friends and neighbors.   Characters would walk into the show for no reason at all except to vex the McGees; the sponsor’s announcer would walk onto the show to promote the sponsor’s product in an integrated commercial, and heaven forbid anybody go into Fibber McGee’s overstuffed closet to find something.

THE CBS RADIO WORKSHOP

This experimental anthology series challenged the abilities of the writers and actors to create amazing drama and comedy for the listening audience.  I’m posting one of my personal favorites here, the CBS Radio Workshop’s recreation of the classic children’s story The Little Prince.

X MINUS ONE

A companion program to science fiction anthology series Dimension X, X Minus One featured writing from some of the greatest science fiction authors of the 1950’s.  Definitely worth hearing now and again.

EDGAR BERGEN AND CHARLIE McCARTHY

Officially known as the Chase and Sanborn show (yep, these shows featured lots of sponsorship), the show’s breakout stars were ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his collection of dummies, including Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.  And as I said before, Charlie McCarthy got away with a lot of humor that a regular-sized human might not.  Which in itself, is pretty funny.

All of these programs, and many more, can be found at SiriusXM’s Channel 148.  The schedule rotates around, so that you get to hear different radio programs at different times.  It’s worth a listen, and it’s great for long car rides.

And, if nothing else, it provides us with a window into broadcast radio and its influence on the entertainment world.

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