Thursday, April 14, 2016

A "Throwback Thursday" rumination on a night in 1957, and 1970s/80s new radio drama in the US (including imports)

On the night of 9 January 1957, in Milwaukee, WI, you could at 8pm have chosen to watch on television the NBC station WTMJ Channel 4 with an in-color broadcast of Kraft Television Theater: "Six Hours of Terror" starring Theodore Bikel; on the NTA Film Network station WITI Ch. 6 the film Gangway for Tomorrow (1943, with Robert Ryan and John Carradine--a Racket Squad repeat would follow at 9:30); The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on the ABC station, WISN-TV12, or on the still somewhat experimental CBS-owned UHF station WXIX 19, The Millionaire (episode "The Story of Nancy Wellington" featuring Anita Louise). You couldn't yet tune in WMVS TV10, the National Educational Television station that would go on-the-air later in the year, after some local and national resistance from the commercial stations and their allies, but support from among others the Socialist Party Mayor of Milwaukee from 1948-1960, Frank Zeidler; among the first programs it would carry would be The Friendly Giant, from Madison, WI public station WHA, a series that would run nationally on NET for at least a dozen years (PBS then took over) and on the CBC till 1984, and in repeats afterward (apparently a Kukla, Fran & Ollie-esque puppet sketch and music series mostly for children). Or you could've opted to tune in, at 8pm, WTMJ-AM, the NBC Radio station, and listened to the first broadcast of X Minus One's adaptation of the Theodore Sturgeon story "A Saucer of Loneliness"; unless you were listening to the CBS radio station instead for The World Tonight newscast, followed at 8:30 pm by, no kidding, Amos & Andy, still in production; I probably would've stuck with NBC radio for the Nelson Olmsted dramatic reading series Sleep No More at 8:30 (featuring A. M. Burrage's "The Waxwork" and Ambrose Bierce's "The Man and the Snake"). 

8pm on a winter Wednesday night in the Midwest.





My mother was often indulgent of my childhood requests for such things as books, magazines and records, but not always, and one item she did not agree to buy for me was the Vanguard Records omnibus album of the Olmsted Sleep No More readings on LP he'd done for them:













































While I hardly ever make an effort to see 60 Minutes any more, I have been finding myself, while on the road in the 7pm hour on Sundays, listening to it on the CBS Radio station KYW-AM (Philadelphia). (I will have to watch eventually and soon to see how Morley Safer looks these days; he sounds every minute of his 85 years of age.) It reminds me of when, my family having just moved to Hawaii in 1979 and living in each other's pockets in a one-bedroom condo in Waikiki for the summer, if I was bored with the late-season Mission: Impossible repeat my parents were watching on cable in the living room, and I didn't feel like going down to the lobby of Discovery Bay and reading a back issue of Fantastic or Fantasy and Science Fiction I'd bought at Froggy's that week, I might go into my parents' room and listen to the CBS Radio drama series, The Sears Radio Theater and The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, running from 8p-10p weeknights on the Honolulu CBS station...when Hawaii finally got an NPR station, listening to the various dramatic series they would try out...catching The World Tonight on CBS Radio in the '80s when not instead catching the Pacifica Evening News or All Things Considered on the DC public stations (I think I pretty much completely missed Monitor on NBC)...and I felt the loss of broadcast access to Pacifica when Temple University's station dumped its affiliation over Mumia Abu-Jamal doing commentary for the network (In my first year in Philadelphia, I was the local presenter of Radio  Nation and The Progressive magazine's Second Opinion on WPPR-FM in the second hour of my Sunday shift, 10p-Midnight...Sweet Freedom the radio series...much as I had been in Fairfax County, VA, on WCXS/WEBR for some years previous...the only downside to being on 8-10p Sundays in the DC area was in missing some of The Big Broadcast on WAMU.) 60 Minutes works reasonably well on the radio, and you can do worse while driving than to parse how as well as what they choose to tell us about whatever they're talking about.

Archives of episodes for streaming, or at worst samples and approximations:

and on FaceBook, Kim Jones was nostalgic about a series of fillers, which I'd missed altogether: 







Michael McKean and Harry Shearer of the Credibility Gap respond to the Kent State shootings:
General Mills' Radio Adventure Theater head base





and ongoing (here and here): 

8 comments:

Jack Seabrook said...

I still pull out my Firesign Theater records every now and then and listen to them. I laugh at the same jokes every time even though I can recite them from memory. "He's so good with the help."

Todd Mason said...

There is a sustained joy in both their meticulous studio abums and the more free-form early radio series...
"He's not your son, Fred."
"Stop torturing me, Ethel."

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I love radio drama, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, so really enjoyed this though I am a very late convert having only really got into it over the last decade or so. Curious to se if any of those Serling broadcasts are available, 'out there' ...

Todd Mason said...

As it turns out...

Cheyanne (Shy Ann) said...

Do you remember Ellery Queen's minute mysteries? I used to love solving those on the radio?
My dad turned me onto them. He was a big fan of all things radio. His generation was. That's all they had back then to amuse themselves.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Kim (or is it Ann?) I might just've heard them, but not often enough to have them stick in the memory...though I know I've heard other variations on the minute mystery series on the radio, not branded to EQ. Wonder if this flourished about the same time as the fine, short-lived Ellery Queen NBC television series in 1975...

Cheyanne (Shy Ann) said...

You are an alert and aware social internet observer Todd. Kim & Ann, one in the same.

1975 sounds about right. It was on morning radio while I listened and got dressed for school.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I saw your FB note, then made the edit in the post, then saw your comment here...I didn't even need to be Inspector Queen (Ellery's cop father) to put that one together. Without television as much more than an experiment toy till the late '40s, radio, movies and magazines (including comics) loomed larger for entertainment than they would for folks generally later on...and paperback books were only a few years ahead of television as a mass-market source of cultural influence.

While there were some notable rational radio projects in the US in the '60s, with such drama series as ABC's THEATER 5 and Pacifica's THE BLACK MASS (along with such continuing projects as MONITOR on NBC and its comedic sketch bits and, for that matter, the Christian radio series UNSHACKLED!), it was remarkable (to me) how many more national projects were launched in the latest '60s through the '80s.An efflorescence in audio drama, particularly when paired with such more-ambitious recording projects at Caedmon and others that were not meant for radio, that we wouldn't see in the US again till podcasting arose, though always a few interesting projects, such as the web-based SEEING EAR THEATER or the public radio series THE NEXT BIG THING would stick their oars in from time to time...