Every city seems to have at least one radio station that saves an hour each night as a sanctuary from the plethora of angry right wing talk radio that overwhelms the all-night frequencies. That one hour or so often contains what we radio nerds call OTR... or Old Time Radio. Syndicated (and heavily edited) programs like When Radio Was hosted by Stan Freberg (and previously Jeopardy's Art Flemming) share with us the standard classics like The Shadow, The Whistler, Suspense and The Jack Benny Show. However, there were literally thousands of shows that played the airwaves back "when radio was." Most of them are neglected or forgotten, and usually for good reason. Here are some OTR programs you may not have heard before. Click the show title to select from a long list of episodes.
The Aunt Jemima Show - The program, pretty much what you would expect from the title, is heavily steeped in references to the old South with many Showboat-esque tunes interspersed and Jemima philosophy about easily overcoming adversity with a smile. Not hard to guess what product was the show's sponsor. It is, essentially, a racist infomercial for the Quaker Oats company. Auntie was played by actress Harriette Widmer who, not surprisingly, was a regular on Amos n' Andy.
The Mel Blanc Show - Mel Blanc was one of those cartoon voice actors who could easily upstage the star on any radio show (Bill Thompson and Arnold Stang are two others who fit into that category). The powers that be figured that Blanc's overwhelming popularity on The Jack Benny Show and Burns & Allen would easily translate into a vehicle of his own (and I don't mean Benny's Maxwell - a vehicle that Blanc provided the sound effects for). The Mel Blanc Show was an awful radio sitcom (Blanc acknowledged as much in his autobiography) that had Mel working in a fix-it shop, constantly quarreling with his blustery boss. The show thrilled me as a child, as Blanc showcased most of his Looney Tunes voices in one way or another in a program that had nothing else going for it. And while we're shooting Blancs, check out this ultra rare Mel Blanc novelty 78!
The Abe Burrows Show - Abe Burrows was an erudite New York writer who had several fine plays and film scripts to his name. He dabbled in radio, creating the broad radio comedy Duffy's Tavern (later translated into one of the worst television shows ever made) and writing gags for several others. His son, James, followed in his footsteps by creating another sitcom set in a pub: Cheers. Abe's most famous work is Guys and Dolls and his least famous might be this radio show. His sponsor, the pharmaceutical company that would create Listerine, found the show too high-brow to move their product. It was the sponsor's complaints that seemed to influence the CBS decision to pull the plug. Burrows lost several Hollywood friends after testifying in front of HUAC.
Crusader Rabbit - Crusader Rabbit was the very first cartoon ever made specifically for television and was produced by the viriginal Jay Ward Studios long before their success with Rocky & Bullwinkle. The television show hit the airwaves in 1949/50, and I can't tell you much about the radio show, other than it obviously didn't last long and probably aired during the same era. In fact, from the sounds of it, this might just be audio straight off the TV show that was then broadcast over the radio. I don't know. Crusader Rabbit was perhaps the most limited animation ever created up to that point. You can watch an episode of the TV show here.
Gasoline Alley - Comic strips were fertile springboards for radio shows. Terry and The Pirates, Superman, Dick Tracy and, of course, Little Orphan Annie all enjoyed success on-air. Gasoline Alley didn't have that kind of action. The show followed Walt & Skeezix through the foibles of single parenthood and it went through three separate incarnations. Gasoline Alley appeared on radio with different actors in the mid-thirties, early forties, and again, in the early fifties, never with much success. It had an appropriate Skeezix_sweaters sponsor, however, with Autolite Sparkplugs.
The Jack Paar Show - As with almost all notable figures in the first twenty years of television, the future host of The Tonight Show got his start in radio. The program was sponsored by Lucky Strikes and starred "America's new young humorist." Nothing too notable about it other than the host. Overall, it is a by-the-books variety comedy show and actually quite enjoyable. Hans Conreid and Walter Tetley were regulars on the show.
I Was a Communist for the FBI - This is probably the most famous of today's offerings and an unabashed camp classic. The radio series was based on a series of exploitation articles done for The Satuday Evening Post. Individual episodes were usually subtitled with the "red" something or other: The Red Snow, Where the Red Men Roam, Little Boy Red and The Red Octopus (commie octopi!). Just under eighty episodes were made in the 1952-53 period. Despite the ludicrous depictions of Russian people and sinister lefties, the program is a pretty good piece of audio noir.