Monday, June 25, 2012

Old Time Radio And Science Fiction

Old time radio and science fiction pretty much go hand in hand. Science fiction was becoming quite popular in the 1920's, as the industrial revolution was taking over the world.

Flash Gordon Comic Strip
Many of the first radio shows dealing with science fiction were aimed at teens and young people, in order to peak their desires to become involved with science.

Some of these early sci-fi radio shows were Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The greatest old time radio show of all time is the sci-fi classic, War of the Worlds. A variety of science fiction authors wrote stories for old time radio shows, such as, Tales of Tomorrow and X-Minus One. Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov were just a few of the well-known authors who helped with the stories for radio shows.

Adult science fiction was not attempted until the 1950's and although Robert Heinlein wrote the first science fiction show that aimed at adults, Beyond Tomorrow, it was canceled after only three shows. The first successful adult oriented sci-fi series is the radio show, 2000 Plus. It was not written by famous science fiction authors and the adventures were based upon space travel, technology and science.

science fiction
The peak of science fiction on the radio was during the 1950's. The world was moving quickly toward space travel and the atomic age was beginning, as technology was growing out of control. The Cold War was starting and communism and the Soviet Union were feared.

As 1960 was approaching, science fiction starting losing some of its excitement as space travel, television and computer started to become a reality. Science fiction leaped onto the television set and continued to evolve.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Greatest Old Time Radio Show Of All Time

old time radio star orson welles
Orson Welles in 1937 (age 21),
photographed by 
Carl Van Vechten
Orson Welles is one of the best known old time radio stars because of the radio show that he did on October 30, 1938, entitled, War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. Orson Welles had a radio show, which was called, "Mercury Theatre on the Air." The show was on at the same time as the "Chase and Sanborn Hour," which starred Edgar Bergen and his sidekick puppet, Charlie McCarthy. This show was the most popular radio show at the time and Orson Welles was trying to come up with ways to get listeners to tune into his show instead.

Orson Welles decided to do an radio adaption of "War of the Worlds" and hired a writer to re-write the story a bit, in order to update it and make it more exciting. The show started with an announcement presenting Orson Welles and introducing the story line. Welles then went on the air and began the introduction of the story. A weather report chimed in as Welles was finishing his introduction and then, the music of Ramon Raquello was said to be being broadcast from the Hotel Park Plaza in New York. In reality, this was all being done at the studio, although the audience believed that these broadcasts were, indeed, from different locations.

A special bulletin came over the air announcing that there was an explosion on Mars. There were other special news bulletins coming in that an alien craft had landed and the aliens were attacking in New Jersey and that people were dead. There was an fake announcement by the Secretary of the Interior, calling Americans to arms. 

old time radio show headline
New York Times Headline
Although Orson Welles announced several times throughout the broadcast that this was only a story, many people did not hear those announcements because they had turned the dial from listening to the Chase and Sanborn Show during the commercial break. People panicked and called the police and radio stations, loading up their vehicles, trying to escape the cities.

It was not until a few hours later that people discovered that Martians had not invaded the United States. Many people were upset and outraged, even suing Welles. Because the public was so used to believing everything that was broadcast over the radio, they believed this story. 

Orson Welles was a great actor, director, producer and writer. He co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in the movie, Citizen Kane, which many film critics have named the best movie of all times. The radio broadcast of War of the Worlds is the most famous broadcast in radio history. His many accomplishments as a writer, director and actor have been overshadowed by the broadcast of this old time radio show classic.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sound Effects For Old Time Radio And More

old time radio sound effectsWe have all watched movies and cartoons and heard what we thought were high winds blowing, doors being opened and people walking. The way those sounds were made, however, had nothing to do with the real events. Instead, there was someone turning the handle of wind machine or maybe, someone in a studio with a microphone aimed at their feet, as they stepped on a layer of stones.

If you ever got to see Monty Python's Holy Grail, then you remember the guys walking through the countryside, clapping coconut shells together to get the sound of running horses. You can put cornstarch in a bag and squeeze it to get the sound of walking on snow. The sky is the limit and you can use almost anything to get certain sounds.

If you were behind the scenes and at the studio of any big movie production or even, at any of those old radio shows, you would probably be amazed at the things that were used to get certain sound effects.

A sheet of styrene plastic can be used to make the sound of rolling thunder. Five gallon buckets are great for filling with water and then use an x-shaped cross on the end of stick to swish through the water for the sound of swimming or oars. A gravel box is used to make the sound of walking. It is just a small rectangular wooden box, filled with gravel. You can cover part of the box with plywood to make other walking sounds, as well.

old time radio sounds.
There were all kinds of crazy contraptions that were used to make sound effects, when radio shows first started and if you walked into a radio station studio, there were tables lined up with junk, making it look like a yard sale table. Anything that could produce a sound that could be used in those old time radio shows was utilized, as long as it didn't take up too much room in the studio.

If you want to make your own sound effects and experiment, there are a ton of resources online. Here are just a few to get you started.

You could just take a recorder and record actual events, such as, a lightening storm or a crowded barroom, but it is so much more fun to come up with your own creations. You can even buy sampled sound effects these days. Without good dialogue, good music and good sound effects, many of those old time radio shows could never have been successful.