Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gunsmoke-An Old Time Radio Classic

This was an old time radio show classic and is considered one of the best radio shows of any kind. The radio version was created in 1952, by writer John Meston and director Norman MacDonnell. The chairman of CBS, William S Paley was a huge fan of the radio serial, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. He asked Hubell Robinson to come up with a Western series that could be, "Philip Marlowe of the Old West."

Robinson then instructed Harry Ackerman, who had originally come up with the Philip Marlowe series, and was also CBS vice president of the West Coast, to work on this show. An audition script was written by Ackerman and two of his script writers, David Friedkin and Mort Fine, called,"Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye." Two auditions were tested, with the first one being more like a hard-core detective series and Marshall Dillon was played by Michael Rye. The second audition was more of a Western with the script lightened up a bit and Marshall Dillon was played by Howard Culver. The latter was preferred by CBS and Ackerman continued working on the show.

Because Culver was working on another Western at the time, his contract stated that he was not allowed to work on another Western series. Ackerman put the project on the shelf and forgot about it. Meston and MacDonnell discovered the script while they were in the process of creating a Western series that was geared towards adults. They did not want to create such juvenile fare as, The Cisco Kid or The Lone Ranger. This show became known as, "Gunsmoke."

There were many people who auditioned for the role of Marshall Dillon and William Conrad was one of the last people to audition. Because of William Conrad's powerful voice, he was very busy in the medium of radio. MacDonnell was not quite sure whether Conrad was the right fit for the character, however, he quickly changed his mind after hearing Conrad read a couple lines. His portrayal of Dylan as a lonely man, who became tough because of his hard life, was perfect for the kind of adult series this was going to be.

Dodge City, Kansas
The Town Gunsmoke was Based On

The show actually evolved as the actors who portrayed the characters settled into their roles. Each actor in the radio series brought a bit of themselves into the character, allowing the writers to expand upon each character and draw the listener into the story even more. Meston hated how many Western fiction writers trivialized the brutality of the true Old West. He wanted to create a show that exposed the brutality and the violence of the old West.

Sound engineers Ray Kemper, and Tom Hanley, 
along with producer/director Norman Macdonnell.
In the early years of Gunsmoke, good did not always prevail over evil and sometimes, Marshall Dillon lost. There was no other show on the radio that exposed such controversial content, such as, Indian scalpings, opium addicts and violent crimes. Another thing that made Gunsmoke better than many other old time radio shows was the superb sound effects.

The radio version ran until 1961. The TV series started in 1955 and ran all the way until  March of 1975. William Conrad was not even considered for the TV series because of his weight. Meston continued to write the television scripts and many of the TV episodes use the exact scenes and dialogues from the radio shows. In the television series of Gunsmoke, some of the character's personalities had to be lightened up a bit. By the end of the television series and, Miss Kitty was no longer seen as a prostitute, but instead, just a kind and bighearted businesswoman

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Rise And Fall Of The Soap Opera On Old Time Radio

As radios became more prevalent in homes during the 1930's, businesses realized the potential to gain new customers using this medium for advertising. The networks realized that the man of the house would be working, the children at school and the housewife was in the home, listening to the radio, as she did her housework. The advertisers realized that the housewife could be a huge marketing force, therefore, these daytime radio shows and advertisements were produced with her in mind.

National Photo Company Collection,
 Prints and Photographs Division.
The first soap opera was created in 1930 and it was, Clara, Lu, and Em. It got its start as a sorority sketch that was written by three friends, Helen King (Em), Isobel Carothers (Lu), and Louise Starkey (Clara). Many of their friends told them that they should take the show to radio. WGN took on the show and the girls did the first few shows without getting paid. It wasn't long before Colgate-Palmolive became interested and started sponsoring the show. It was broadcast in the evening and then, moved to daytime radio in 1932.

The soap opera was most often defined by the sponsors, which mostly consisted of household products. These were geared towards the housewife. Soap operas are very often, associated with women and have a reputation of gaudiness. However, the listener needed a good deal of knowledge to follow some of these complex storylines.

Courtesy of Chuck Schaden Radio Collection
A soap opera consists of a series that has a storyline that continues on a day-to-day basis and there are usually a few storylines going at one time. A woman, Anne Schumacher, who was working for advertising executive, Edward Frank Hummert (Frank), recognized that women staying at home were the main decision makers of which household products to buy and that writing stories for the housewife, who could listen to these stories during the day, was an untapped market. Schumacher and her husband, John Ashenhurst came up with the serial, Just Plain Bill, who was a barber who married above his station, which was a success. They then produced, Ma Perkins and Backstage Wife.

Schumacher and Ashenhurst divorced and it was about the same time that Hummert's wife died. This left both Anne and Frank single and they soon began a relationship that led to marriage in 1935. The formula for most soap operas was perfected by this husband and wife team. They began a production company called, Air Features Inc., which churned out other daytime serials, such as, Stella Dallas, John's Other Wife and Young Widder Brown.

Irna Phillips
Another woman by the name of Irna Phillips created the Guiding Light in 1937. This was one of the longest running soap operas of all time and made the successful transition to television. Irna Phillips created the techniques that many take for granted in soap operas today, such as, cliffhangers and the organ music that bridges scenes.

Radio soap operas became a part of American culture, but in 1960, many of the radio soap operas were cancelled, as television became the new medium for the American public. Soap operas made the transition to daytime television and were successful for many more years.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interesting Findings

While on my search for old time radio shows, I sometimes come across an interesting find. I search the public domain records for lost recordings of radio shows and events. Naturally, I am bound to find things that have to do with the radio world, but are not old time radio shows.

As I find new things, I will put the links in this article. You can check these things out and let me know if you find these things as interesting as I do. It takes a lot of time to search the public domain and to copy these files. Please leave your comments and let me know if you enjoy these findings.

The first link is for a magazine that was published in 1926, called Talking Machine World.  After World War I ended in 1918, radio stations were given back to civilians. The phonograph and radio were becoming a more common fixture in most homes and many Americans owned one.

You can check out the advertising methods that were used back in this time and see the latest innovations in the radio and phonograph business. Go to and check out pages from this magazine that were published throughout the year 1926.

old time radio magazine
Talking Machine World Magazine from 1926

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Space Race

Space Race On Old Time Radio
There are some great recordings that were captured as the United States made its way into outer space. In the late 1950's, the Soviet Union and the United States were competing in the "Space Race." The Soviet Union beat the United States into space two times. The first time was when they successfully launched the first satellite into space, which was Sputnik 1 and then again in 1961, when Yuri Gagarin was launched into space.

You can listen in on the Mercury Redstone 3 countdown, liftoff and mission. CBS made a radio report later in the week, describing the event. You can check out a few of the other Mercury missions, as well.

There are also, recordings of the most memorable moments of the United State's entry into outer space. You can hear John F. Kennedy's reaction to the delays that were encountered during Mercury-Atlas 6 flight, before take-off, when astronaut John Glenn successfully orbited the Earth.

On January 27, 1967, the crew of Apollo 1 were conducting a launch simulation when an electrical fire broke out in the capsule. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White were trapped and killed in the fire. The Apollo capsule was redesigned and other safety protocols were put into place.

You will also be able to listen in to the historic Apollo 11 flight, which put the first man on the moon. Relive these historical moments of the United States and all of the human race.

Check out: