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Atomic Radio and the Cold War Radio

The Atomic Age was a time of great fear and tension. America was filled with relief after victory in WWII. We had "The Bomb." The Soviet Union, an uneasy Ally during WWII, also had nuclear weapons and would be seen as the Enemy.

Text on OTRCAT.com ©2001-2021 OTRCAT INC All Rights Reserved-Reproduction is prohibited.

Thanks to advances in broadcast technology developed in WWII and the growing sophistication of writers, producers, and audiences, Network and Syndicated radio was full of great programming--arguably some of the Golden Age's finest. Much of this programming both heightened or eased fears. Nuclear proliferation created a dual effect on the population as the public feared the annihilation of mankind and was fascinated with the possibilities of nuclear technology.

We call this programming "Atomic Radio."

Red Scare Radio: "Communists are Evil"


This sentiment has been perpetuated for generations. Some scholars make the argument that the Cold War actually began in 1917, with the rise of the revolutionary Bolshevik regime in Russia. After the end of WWII, the United States and the then USSR disagreed politically and the US actively worked to control and contain the spread of communism through economic, political, and militaristic efforts.

Seen through this lens, the excesses of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joseph McCarthy begin to be understandable and the nation was swept into anti-communist fervor.

Partially, as an attempt to revive Hollywood's reputation after the blacklisting of the "Hollywood Ten", the entertainment industry produced an abundance of anti-communist propaganda projects. Although some of this work was low quality, but a good deal of it was well produced, quality entertainment.


Dana AndrewsCivil Defense LogoI Was A Communist for the F.B.I.

I Was A Communist for the F.B.I. was based on the career of Matt Cvetic. A mole in the American Communist Party, Cvetic feed information to the FBI. His life was in constant danger, and he was unable to tell even his family what his true mission was. Dana Andrews played Cvetic on the radio from 1952-54. The program was a great example of the Radio Noir genre, with Andrews' tagline: "I walk alone."

I was a Communist for the FBI (1952): American Kremlin


Civil Defense LogoKeys to the Capitol

Keys to the CapitolNews programs are not always propaganda vehicles. Like some of today's Cable TV news outlets, they were driven by the political leanings of their producers, even in the beginning of the Atomic Age. NBC's weekly news program, Keys to the Capitol presented commentary from Washington's leaders and insiders from 1954-56. Very interesting for our discussion is the Aug 11, 1954 broadcast entitled "American Attitude Towards Communism".

Of further interest are the broadcast speeches of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, recorded between 1950 and 1954.

Keys To The Capitol (1954): Fight Over European Defense Treaty

Duck and Cover Radio: What's the view like from under your school desk?

It is easy to be glib nearly 60 years removed, but the terrors of The Bomb were and are very real. Radio did a great deal to explain why these fears were so real, and helped to feed the growing paranoia.

Civil Defense LogoThe Fifth Horseman

Duck and CoverOne of the earliest and perhaps finest programs on this subject is The Fifth Horseman.This short eight-part series predated the Soviet's first Atomic test by three years. The show was widely promoted as demonstrating the need for UN control of Atomic energy and weapons. (Of course, the Soviets, who were developing their own Atomic device, as well as the Americans, who's Military-Industrial Complex had a long history of mistrusting the UN, would have never stood for such an idea.) The Fifth Horseman was a well produced documentary series, harnessing some major star power. Henry Fonda, William Bendix, Ken Christy, Dane Clark, and Robert Young all starred the dramatic episodes. The topics ranged from detailed factual accounts, like Fonda's descriptions of the Hiroshima bombing and the tests at Bikini Atoll; to the fanciful, Glenn Ford's dream like account of the promises of Atomic Power in a future that makes Disney's "Tomorrow Land" look pessimistic; to frightening, if outdated, portrayal of Atomic war (this was in the days before Hydrogen bomb and MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. At this time, destruction was measured in kilo-tons, not mega-tons.)

Fifth Horseman (1946): Dawn


Civil Defense LogoThe Quick and the Dead

Bob HopePerhaps a more balanced accounting at the beginning of the Atomic Ageis the four-part documentary series The Quick and the Dead (1950).  This balance was probably more due to circumstance than intent. Producer Fred Friendly was fearful and critical of the new technology, and hoped his documentary would help quiet calls for the US to use atomic weapons in Korea. However a big part of his team was William Laurence, the New York Times Science Correspondent whom the Army had selected to document the Manhattan Project. Laurence has been criticized for sanitizing and even glamorizing the realities of Atomic Warfare. Fred Friendly scripted the program as a conversation between an average taxpayer, played by Bob Hope, who wonders about the high portion of his tax dollars that were going to Atomic research, and Laurence. The conversation was "illustrated" with clips from the news room, historical dramatizations, and taped conversations with figures involved in the early atomic age. The series climaxed in the fourth episode, which covered the potential of Atomic energy, including the miracles of Atomic Medicine.

Quick and the Dead (1950): Episode 1

For Further Listening Enjoyment, Try Living In an Atomic Age, One World Flight, and One Out of Seven.


Spy v Spy Radio

Spy Camera 1940s

Fortunately, this isn't reality, it's radio. And we expect our Spy-Heroes to get in and out of danger, and hopefully get the girl along the way. Radio doesn't disappoint. A Cold-War story, I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. certainly fits well into the Crime as well as the Radio Noir sub-genre.The legacy of James Bond makes it a little difficult to take the world of espionage and spy-craft as seriously as it should be. In reality the work of our intelligence agencies was of great value the nation during the Cold War. The greatest of these contributions may remain a mystery; a spy who gets well known is often a spy who gets dead.


Civil Defense LogoThe Man Called X

Man Called XKen Thurston, played by English actor Herbert Marshall, was The Man Called X, a globe-trotting agent of "The Bureau." Along with his comic side kick Pegon Zellschmidt, he got his start in the summer of 1944, chasing Nazis. In the post war years there was plenty to keep him busy with relief-organization profiteers, black marketers, smugglers and nuclear materials thieves. "The Bureau" that Thurston worked for is never really defined, but it is the Bureau's Chief that sends Thurston on his world wide jaunts. For an agent in the 40s and 50s, Ken Thurston made it to many corners of the world, from Manhattan to Korea, Maine to Baja California, Japan to Tierra del Fuego. His companion, Pegon Zellschmidt, may or may not accompany him on his journey, but he always manages to show up, often to visit a nearby "Cousin."

Man Called X (1951): Five Ounces Of Treason

Civil Defense LogoCloak and Dagger

OSS PinThe Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the predecessor to the CIA. Although the stories are about agents adventures in WWII, the program is clearly aimed at a cold war audience. The Cloak and Dagger program asks the question "Are you willing to undertake a dangerous mission for the United States, knowing in advance you may never return alive?" With the patriotism of the War Years still fresh, and post war prosperity beginning to boom, who would have said no? In the tales related in the program, the heroes did return alive, if only by the skin of their teeth, and sometimes even after getting the girl.

For Further Listening Enjoyment, Try David Harding, Counter-Spy, Dangerous Assignment, The Adventures of Frank Race, and The Silent Men.

Mushroom Clouds & Monsters

Atomic RadioSci Fi
had an impact in radio drama. There were many science fiction anthology series during the 1950's, including 2000 PLUS, Dimension X, and X Minus One. Escape and Suspense featured a number of Sci Fi episodes. Many of the stories used were taken from pulp Sci Fi magazines, featuring the best Sci Fi authors of the time.The early Cold War years were full of contradictions. It was a time of great prosperity, but also a time of growing fear. Advances in rocketry brought the dream of space flight in reach, but also brought about the ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile). Science Fiction had entered its Golden Age, but was still largely discounted as pulp fiction.

Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic stories have long been a part of Science Fiction. Sci Fi authors from both the Left and Right political spectrum used the Aesopian potential of Science Fiction. Radio Dramas, from a modern perspective, don't seem as "over the top" as the B grade Sci Fi movies of the time, and are a good way to enjoy some of the best Science Fiction has to offer.

The X Minus One program partnered with "Astounding Science Fiction" Magazine, and later "Galaxy Science Fiction" Magazine -- both respected publishers of serious SciFi.

In "The Castaways", the Military is conducting tests of a new Atomic Bomb on a remote Pacific Atoll. The General in charge of the test is a no-nonsense Officer who will let nothing stand in the way, and his lead scientists are in awe of the device they have created. But of course there is a snag, the natives of the island are unwilling to leave for the test. In protest they all leap into the sea from a high cliff, after putting a curse on the test and its commander. The test fails, but for surprising reasons.

Text on OTRCAT.com ©2001-2015 OTRCAT INC All Rights Reserved-Reproduction is prohibited.

X Minus One (1956): The Castaways

Galaxy NetworkRay Bradbury stories are featured in the radio dramas "There Will Be Soft Rains", and "Zero Hour." In "Zero Hour," children all over the world playing a new game, Invasion. Of course it is just child's play, and parents pay little attention. But they don't realize the game is directed by an Alien force, not unlike those insidious Reds, for whom Invasion is more than a game. "Soft Rains" tells of a wondrous automated house. In the morning the kitchen automatically makes breakfast while the beds make themselves, later a team of mechanical mice clean and remove all the dust, before bedtime beds warm themselves, and the entertainment system will read the occupants a favorite poem. Only there is no one to read too, the family that bought the house has been vaporized in an atomic war. But the house doesn't know that. Atomic War has been raging for years on the surface, while the citizens are hiding in underground tunnels, protected by robots. But what are the robots protecting from? One of the human scientists has fallen in love with a captured Asiatic enemy, a crime punishable by banishment to the deadly surface. But the robots have hidden the fact that there is no war.

X Minus One (1956): There Will Come Soft Rains & Zero Hour

Chicago Blast Radius

Atomic Shows

Atomic Radio Quick Reference

Radio Show Title





Atomic Radio CollectionNukes & Commies Bundle  1940s-1960s       GIANT Compilation of 31 different volumes of Atomic era recordings and Cold War recordings! Nukes, Red scare, News, Conelrad, Civil Defense, and more!
Atomic Radio Collection
Apocalypse (End of the World) Collection
1930s-1959       Compilation of episodes from all various series of "End of the World" themes

Duck and Cover, Plagues, Robot Attacks, Time Travel, Annihilation, Speeches, and more!

Atomic Radio CollectionAtomic Radio Collection 1940s-1959       Compilation of episodes from all various series of "Atomic" themes Duck and Cover , Spy v Spy, Speeches, and more!
Atomic Radio Collection
Commies and Cold War in Old Time Radio
1940s-1960s       Compilation of episodes and news broadcasts of the day portraying "the threat of communists in America and abroad" The Red Scare!
Civil DefenseCivil Defense Collection 1950s-1960s Various President John Kennedy, Santa Claus, Johnny Nash, Eartha Kitt, the Four Aces, and Others US Gov't This is a collection of Civil Defense broadcasts, ranging from CONELRAD to celebrity plugs for Civil Defense Programs Duck and Cover
Biography In SoundBiography in Sound 1954-1958 NBC Featured Mel Allen, Fred Allen, Dinah Shore, Ethyl Barrymore, Helen Hayes, and others Joseph O. Meyers The program mostly featured biographies of celebrities, however the producers also profiled important concepts and intitutions. Episode 26 discusses the Atom. Duck and Cover
Cloak & DaggerCloak and Dagger 1950 NBC Several NY radio A-listers, incl Raymond E. Johnson and Jackson Beck Wyllis Cooper True stories of the Office of Strategic Service, progenitor of the CIA Spy vs Spy
Dangerous AssignmentDangerous Assignment 1949-1953 NBC Brian Donlevy Bill Karn Agent Steve Mitchell is send by the Commisioner, head of an obscure State Dept agency, to exotic locations to protect the American way of life Spy vs Spy
CounterspyDavid Harding-Counterspy 1942-1950 NBC Blue/ABC Don Mac Laughlin Phillips H. Lord The Counterspy is a fictional arm of the Government charged with investigating reports of suspicious espionage. Brought to us by the creator of "Gangbusters" Spy vs Spy
Enola GayEnola Gay 1945 Paul Tibbets, Jr and the crew of the Enola Gay News stories, interviews, and radio shows about The US Air Force Bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima Historic 
Fifth HorsemanThe Fifth Horseman 1946 NBC Various Hollywood A-Listers Arnold Marquis This eight-part documentary on the dangers and potential of the newly dawned Atomic Age. Duck and Cover
Frank RaceFrank Race (The Adventures of Frank Race) 1949-1950 Syndicated Tom Collins/ Paul Dubov Bruce Eells "Johnny Dollar meets James Bond" Race is an internation insurance detective who chases bad guys and beautiful women chase him. Spy vs Spy
Harry LimeHarry Lime [The Adventures of Harry Lime (The Third Man)] 1951-1952 Syndicated Orson Welles Harry Allen Towers Prequel to the film "The Third Man": Harry Lime is an international crook, but with a conscience. A Robin Hood who is "Hunted by men...Sought by women. Spy vs Spy
IWACI Was a Communist for the F.B.I. 1952-1954 Syndicated Dana Andrews ZIV Productions Based on the true story of Matt Cvetic who infiltrated the American Communist Party and later testified before the House Un-American Activities Commitee. Red Scare / Spy vs Spy
Living in Atomic AgeLiving in an Atomic Age 1953 ABC Sir Bertrand Russell Sir Bertrand Russell This seven-part lecture series from on of the great thinkers of the twentieth century Duck and Cover
One out of Seven, Jack WebbOne Out of Seven 1946 ABC/KGO Jack Webb Jack Webb Newspaper editors judge that "One out of Seven" stories are worthy of retelling. In episode 6 of this one-man show, Webb explores "The Coming Third World War" Duck and Cover
One World FlightOne World Flight 1947 CBS Norman Corwin Norman Corwin Corwin flies around the world interviewing and recording, trying to make a case for a World Government in dangerous Atomic times. Duck and Cover
Pacific StoryPacific Story 1943-1947 NBC Gayne Williams Owen Lattimore With much of Europe in ruins during WWII, the nations of the Pacific would become more important to the US as trading and cultural partners. The series examines the culture, people, and history of the region. Duck and Cover
Plans for Civil DefensePlan for Civil Defense 1951 CBS Bill Leonard The Civil Defense Radio network Atomic Attacks and Major Pandemics do not seem related, but the response to the threat from Government and Citizens is surprisingly similar Duck and Cover
Quick & DeadThe Quick and the Dead 1950 NBC Bob Hope & William Laurence Fred Friendly Bob Hope, in the name of every man, tries to "learn about this new Atomic Stuff" from the science correspondent, William Laurence. Duck and Cover
Silent MenThe Silent Men 1951-1952 NBC Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Fairbanks dramatizes the work of Special Agents in all branches of our federal government. Fairbanks himself was a Commando in WWII, a "Silent Man" Spy vs Spy
Spy CatchersSpy Catcher 1960-1961 Syndicated     The unending search for spies in Washington. Set before the atomic Era, so more Nazis than Commies. Spy vs Spy
Stars for DefenseStars for Defense 1952- 1967     Home Front Propaganda/ Economics Lesson Sponsored by The Office of Price Stabilization (OPS) and later the Dept of Civil Defense, the program featured great music from popular acts of the time with a lesson from the sponsoring agency. Civil Defense
Time TravelersTime Travelers in Old Time Radio         In time travel there are voyages to the future, travels to the past, and strange visitors from the future coming to our present time in this original collection. Compilation
Tales of Foreign ServiceTales of the Foreign Service 1946 NBC   NBC University of the Air/US State Dept Tales of those who served in the Foreign Service. These tales are pre-Atomic, but demonstrate some of the thinking and diplomacy that would be required of the great nations of the Atomic Age. Spy vs Spy
Civil DefenseThis is Civil Defense 1956 Mutual Uncredited Rocky Mountain Radio Council The series relates how Civil Defense workers help in time of Emergency, and the steps they take and that listeners should take to prepare for Emergency Duck and Cover
UN RadioUnited Nations Radio 1946-Present Shortwave Various, but featuring politicians as well as international A-List stars such as Gary Cooper, Dick Powell, and Edward R Murrow UN General Assembly UN Radio was established by a General Assembly Resolution stating "the UN cannot achieve the purposes for which it was created unless the peoples of the world are fully informed of its aims and activities." Duck and Cover
WeafWEAF 12-hour Broadcast Aug 6, 1945     WEAF Station WEAF began transcribing their broadcast under the assumption the atomic detonation on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 would be the final day of the war. Historic Daily Programming
World Security WorkshopWorld Security Workshop 1947   Ray Bradbury and others   Powerful dramas by the United World Federalists to make the World a better and safer place. Duck and Cover

Cat with Glasses
For more interesting reading, see also:
Science Fiction in Old Time Radio >>
Espionage in Old Time Radio >>
Space Race Recordings >>

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