Some would argue that Science Fiction
is as old as civilization itself as humans
gazed up to the stars and wondered, "what if…"
Literary precursors of the Science Fiction genre include Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" (1726), Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein' (1818), and Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886). Jules Verne's "Voyage to the Center of the Earth" (1864) and H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine" (1895) were also important works in the field of Science Fiction.
At the beginning of the 20th century amid the Industrial Revolution, Science Fiction was coming into its own. Many short stories by Science Fiction writers such as Jules Verne were commonly included in regular adventure and pulp magazines. In
The first science fiction old time radio shows were primary adventure serial shows intended for juveniles co-opted with a scientific theme, most notably Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. These shows for children tended to glamorize scientific progress and featuring larger than life heroes.
Buck Rogers (1939): Gyro
Flash Gordon (1935), a comic strip created in 1934 by Alex Raymond, road the coattails of its predecessor Adventures of Buck Rogers. Like his futuristic forerunner, the Flash Gordon franchise was also adapted to film, television, cartoons, and radio. In the series, Flash Gordon was a dashing and handsome hero who with the help of his companions beautiful Dale Arden and scientists Dr. Zarkov fought the evil warlord Ming from the planet Mongo. The radio serial adapted the Sunday comic strip almost verbatim. Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon ran for 26 weeks between
Flash Gordon (1935):
Death Battle Won By Flash (15 min)
Within the horror and drama genres there were some breakout science fiction radio plays including Arch Oboler's radio plays Lights Out "Meteor Man" and "The Rocket Ship" Radio Guild Theater "The Man Who Was Tomorrow", Columbia Workshop's "R.U.R." (Rossum's Universal Robots), Favorite Story produced H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine", and Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" among others.
The most memorable s science fiction old time radio from the 1930s was Orson Welles War of the Worlds on Mercury Theater aired on Halloween (October 30, 1938). This broadcast had a phenomenal impact on the nation because Welles blurred the lines between fiction and fact, essentially convincing America that the Martians were invading.
Mercury Theater (1938): War of the Worlds (60 min)
Pulp Magazines played an integral role in science fiction old time radio shows. Magazines such as "Galaxy" and "Astounding Stories." Writers, editors, and producers moved readily between the pulp magazine pages and the science fiction radio airwaves. Many science fiction pulp magazines moved to produce their stories on science fiction radio series. "Galaxy Magazine" sponsored Tales of Tomorrow and later X-Minus One, after "Astounding Magazine."
In 1938, John Campbell was given the reins of "Astounding" magazine and moved it into a new direction where he stressed hard science fiction. He attracted some of the best science fiction writers of the era including Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, A. E. Van Vogt, and many more.
Radio was slow to produce a series dedicated to serious adult science fiction drama with the first show dedicated to Science Fiction airing in 1950. There were some attempts at science fiction on Escape, Suspense, Lights Out and others. An earnest attempt in sort of science fiction radio show includes little known and very rare Latitude Zero in 1941. Some argue that that Beyond Tomorrow written by Robert Heinlein was the first Science Fiction show aimed for adults, with the first episode created on February 23, 1950. However, Beyond Tomorrow was dropped after three episodes and credit for the first adult science fiction series is often given to 2000 Plus.
2000 Plus (1950) aired to
2000 Plus (1950): The Green Thing (30 min)
Dimension X (1950-1951) hit the airwaves one month later. With the blessing of the majority of the science fiction community, Dimension X featured writings of the leading science fiction writers of the time including Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Clifford D. Simak, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Hosted by Norman Rose, Dimension X used content and believability to explore the world of tomorrow. The sounds effects were fantastic creating aliens, galaxies, weapons, inventions, robots, and more in the imaginations of radio listeners across the nation. Albert Berman composed futurist musical score with
Dimension X (1951): Marionettes Inc (28 min)
When Science Fiction expanded into adult fiction, the wonder of science fiction didn't leave the juvenile market. Radio shows like Planet Man, Space Patrol, Captain Starr, and Tom Corbett continues to delight young audiences. The newer science fiction juvenile radio shows followed a similar format to their processors Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
Planet Man (1950) features galaxy patrolman Dantro to keep peace in space. Dantro fights aggressive evil warlords such Marston,the ruler of Mars. Planet Man has a scientist sidekick Dr. John Darrow and he is also aided by John's daughter Pat, nephew and niece Billy and Jane, and his engineer Slats.
Planet Man (1950): Episode 1 (11 min)
Space Patrol (1950-1955) also featured a law enforcement subtext in an outer space themed show. Buzz Corey, commander-in-chief of the Space Patrol. His "golly-gee" sidekick was Hissidekick was Cadet Happy and Carol Karlyle gave the space ship Terra V a feminine touch. Of course, there were space bad guys, manly evil geniuses and aliens warlords such Mister Proteus, Dr. Ryland Scarno, The Black Falcon, the beautiful but evil Tonga. The show was a hit both on the air and on the tube.
Space Patrol (1950): The Flash Flood (29 min)
Tom Corbett Space Cadet (1952) became a science fiction television show in 1950—two years before it hit the radio airwaves. And like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett Space Cadet began as a comic strip. Tom Corbett piloted space ship Polaris, whose crew includes scientist Roger Manning (Jan Merlin), Astro the alien from Venus, Dr. Joan Dale and Captain Strong. Like Dimension X, Tom Corbett Space Cadet was a smart well produced show which used fantastic sound effects.
Tom Corbett Space Cadet (1952): Living Crystals of Titan (24 min)
Many science fiction enthusiasts consider 1950-1960 to be the Golden Era of Science Fiction. This is the decade when the best Science Fiction old time radio was created. At the same time American's non-fiction world was filled with "duck and cover" exercises, red scare, McCarthyism, and the fears of a Soviet invasion or nuclear annihilation. To many, science fiction with aliens allowed audiences to play out the fantasy of invasion by substituting Communists for aliens.
Exploring Tomorrow (1957-1958) was created towards the end of the 1950s decade. Acclaimed editor of "Astounding Magazine," John Campbell, produced and hosted Exploring Tomorrow with the aid of some of his best contributing writers. According to "Astounding Magazine," the series was billed as the "first science fictionold time radio show of science-fictioneers, by science- fictioneers, and for science-fictioneers." With Campbell at the reins, Exploring Tomorrow was a well-constructed show with elevated concepts and great stories. Campbell's introductions are thoughtful and provocative.
Exploring Tomorrow (1957): The Cold Equations (18 min)
X Minus One (1955-1958), the science fiction anthology series, was considered to be the revival show of Dimension X featuring adopted science fiction stories. X-Minus One was truly the greatest of not only science fiction radio shows but of all radio dramas. The first shows were duplicated from the original Dimension X, later the producers pulled ideas for shows from the pages of "Galaxy Magazine." Like Dimension X, X-Minus One used some of the leading science fiction authors in the genre including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Frederik (Fred) Pohl and Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley, J. T. McIntosh, Fritz Leiber and many more. The show's script writers, Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts made some remarkable original scripts. Leffert's "The Parade" features a Martian who hires an advertising agency to help him plan a parade to celebrate the Martian invasion. Some shows ended unhappily such as "The Cold Equation" and an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Mars in Heaven" where earthmen land on Mars to discover it's inhabited by people they know. Remarkably, all episodes of X-Minus One survive.
X Minus One (1957): The Map Makers (29 min)
Science fictioneers across the pond in Great Britain also made attempts at the science fiction radio drama that were great indeed. Two surviving shows are serials, Orbit One-Zero and Journey into Space. Although much of the time in Journey into Space is spent opening and closing airlock doors, the plot line is exciting and the acting superb with unique characters.
When Russian scientists launched Sputnik in 1957, science fiction became more of a science actuality. Inventions thought to only be in science fiction like rockets, televisions, and computers were becoming a reality. The future of entertainment was on televisions that were more ubiquitous in American households and the golden age of science fiction left the airwaves. Luckily many of these recordings were preserved for enjoyment today. Many science fictionold time radio shows survived in completion including Dimension X and X-Minus One.
"A good science fiction story should be able
to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam."
- Fred Pohl
OTRCAT's Original Sci-Fi Compilations:
Chronological list of sci-fi old time radio show series:
- Buck Rogers (1932-1936, 1939, 1940, 1947)
- Flash Gordon (1935)
- Planet Man (1950)
- 2000 Plus (1950)
- Beyond Tomorrow (1950)
- Space Patrol (1950-55)
- Dimension X (1950-51)
- Planet Man (1950)
- Cloud Nine (1950)
- Tom Corbett Space Cadet (1952)
- Captain Starr of Space (1953-54)
- Tales of Tomorrow (1953)
- Exploring Tomorrow (1957-58)
- X Minus One (1955-58)
Other series which include sci-fi episodes:
- Columbia Workshop
- Favorite Story
- Hall of Fantasy
- Lights Out
- Mercury Theater
- Quiet Please
- Proudly We Hail
- Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Theater Guild on the Air