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Tips from a Fellow OTR Fan Issue 1


by Steve Atlas

Old Radio

Like most of you, I am a lover and collector of Old Time Radio (OTR). I want to thank OTRCAT for making these collections available at such an affordable price. In just 1 year, I have been able to build a collection of about 100 Instant Download MP3s.

My problem has been that there are so many OTR programs that even if I buy a collection, I am not sure which individual programs I would enjoy most. Also, what collections are good choices if you have to limit yourself to just a few? Do any of you have similar problems?

Then this article is for you. Here, I will recommend some of my favorite OTR collections, and a few of my favorite programs. I hope you too will want to share some of your favorites with other OTR listeners. If you have a few favorites, please comment below.

Are you just getting started, or not sure how to build your collection?

A good way to start is by listening to one or more of the 12 OTR Sampler collections (one is included free with every paid order of $5 or more).  Each Sampler includes a single episode of 100 or more programs. You can enjoy each sampler in 2 ways:

The first way is to enjoy it as a collection of old-time radio programs. Since each sampler has over 20 hours of programs, take a few hours to enjoy some programs. You can skip those you don’t like.

Jack Webb on Best of DragnetThe 2nd way—and the way I do it—is to listen as an OTR fan. If a program interests you, type the name of the program into the search bar of OTRCAT. You may find a series you never knew about. That is what I did when I listened to OTR Sampler #7. Track 6 featured an episode of Anthology: a wonderful series devoted to poetry read by famous actors and present-day poets. I enjoyed that Memorial Day show so much that my wife and I agreed that Anthology was a series that we could enjoy for a long time. We just finished listening to the episode called "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." Next week, we plan to listen to the next program that spotlights poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. We would never have even heard of Anthology if we hadn’t listened to OTR Sampler #7. (Since we have limited time, we try to listen to all the Sampler programs beginning with A. When we finish those, we will start on the B’s.)

Another way to start out is with several of the "Best of" collections. Two of my favorites are The Best of Dragnet, and The Best of Gunsmoke.

Are you a music lover?

Hank Williams

OTRCAT has so many collections of music that it can be overwhelming to find a few to start with. Here are two of my favorites:

Do you like Hank Williams, the legendary country singer?

My wife is a big fan of his. That’s why she loves: Mother's Best Flour. These 15-minutes programs feature Hank Williams singing at least one song and chatting with the announcers as they advertise Mother’s Best Flour. Nearly any of these 1951 programs will delight you. If you have a favorite Hank Williams song, that show might be a good choice. 2 of my favorites are "Mind Your Own Business" (program #5), and "Why Don’t You Love Me" (program #13).

How about an hour with great classical pianists of the past?

Then, you will want to hear: Keyboard Immortals. The elegant commentary and memorable performances make the 1968 radio series a gem.  My special favorite is the first program in this collection: Chopin. The next 2 programs in this collection are also delightful. Program #2 features the music of Anton Rubinstein: an unjustly neglected composer who today is best known for his short Melody in F. Program #3 spotlights the music of Claude Debussy. A highlight of that program is a recorded performance by Debussy himself.

Do you enjoy Broadway musicals?

Would you like to hear the story behind "Guys and Dolls", "Kiss Me Kate", "My Fair Lady," and "Oklahoma." Then check out the fabulous short collection (you can buy it on a single audio CD) Heartbeat of Broadway.  When we listen to each 15-minute program, it almost feels as if we were getting ready to watch the musical.

Demille of Lux Radio

Perhaps, the best-known radio theater program was Lux Radio Theater. Featuring popular movies adapted for radio, Lux Radio Theatre began its Hollywood-based series in 1936 and lasted nearly 20 years. The legendary movie producer Cecil B. DeMille was the host from 1936-January 1945. The biggest problem, for me and probably many of you is that the program ran for so many years that it can be difficult to select a single year or collection. It’s almost like going to the store and looking for one item—but finding so many choices that we leave without selecting any.

Probably the best way to sample Lux Radio Theater is with a collection called Best of Lux Radio Theater. 25 one-hour plays are on a single MP3. The collection includes several of my favorite movies (most with at least some members of the original cast). "Goodbye Mr. Chips", "Treasure Island", "Casablanca," "Wizard of Oz", "Lost Horizon", "Miracle on 34th St.", and "It’s a Wonderful Life."

Another way to build a Lux Radio Theater collection is by reviewing the MP3 collections available and selecting a collection with many of your favorite films. That is what I did when I bought Volumes 21 and 22. Two of my favorites in Volume 21 are 2 "radio movies" featuring Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," and "Alexander’s Ragtime Band."

Are you a Ronald Coleman fan?

Ronald ColmanTwo of my favorite Ronald Coleman movies are "Lost Horizon," and "Goodbye Mr. Chips." Both are available as part of The Ronald Coleman Collection: Volumes 1 and 2. A great bonus for Jack Benny lovers is the inclusion of several Jack Benny programs that feature Ronald and Benita Coleman.  

My favorite Ronald Coleman series is Halls of Ivy—a series about a fictitious college: Ivy College where Ronald is the president and Benita his wife. The first half of each program has lots of humor (the writer of the program was Don Quinn who wrote for Fibber McGee and Molly) while the 2nd half has a more serious theme. Four of my favorite episodes (all are on Volume 1 of this 2 MP3 collection) are: "Student Actress" (track 20), "Faculty Raffle" (track 28), "The Education of Annie Bell" (track 30), and "The Leslie Hoff Painting" (track 31).

What are your favorite Old Time Radio programs?

Do you have a few favorite episodes that you would enjoy sharing with other OTR listeners? If you would like to include some of your favorites and why you like them in "Tips from a Fellow OTR" fan, leave a comment below.

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COMMENTS

As a former road warrior, I have enjoyed the MP3 cd’s for many years. I wore out my original portable MP3 player which I would take with me for rental cars. Now, being handicapped, the newer portable MP3 player sits next my lift chair in our living room. Our guest bedroom combination computer room has many of your MP3s next to the computer. I am relatively young and at 76 years old so don’t recall listening to the radio to listen to these shows leaving me to enjoy for the first time. Thank you for providing this service.

John

John, I appreciate your sharing your experience with MP3s and Old Time Radio. Keep listening, please. Al, thank you so much for your informative post. Do you have any favorite Phil Harris-Alice Faye shows that you could recommend to a listener who is not familiar with any of those shows? Also, if someone is just starting out, what volume of Phil Harris-Alice Faye would you recommend as your 1st choice? What would be your 2nd choice? (If you don't mind, I'd like to include a few of your suggestions in my next Tips from a Fellow OTR Fan.)

Steve

Thanks for the post...I might have to write a full article myself to get all my thoughts out, but one show that might be off the radar that I recommend is The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. If you like Phil on the Jack Benny Program (the ultimate in Old Time Radio comedy) you will especially enjoy an extra dose of Phil on his own show, supported by two great Radio actors, Elliot Lewis (as Frank Remley, later revealed to be just a stage name--his true name turns out to be....Elliot Lewis!), and Walter Tetley as bombastic grocery delivery boy Julius Abruzzio. Alice can't quite match these three as radio performers, but each episode typically has both her and Phil sing (sometimes just one of them) and she is a great singer. Highly recommended. I heartily agree with the recommendation of Halls of Ivy and Best of Gunsmoke as well. I might also suggest Best of Suspense and Best of Escape. These are sister shows with some great stories. Their content overlaps somewhat, with the chief distinction being that Suspense focuses more on crime and mystery, while Escape focuses more on adventures in exotic locales. Also, Suspense typically features a Hollywood star as the lead, while Escape relies solely on radio actors, but such great ones as William Conrad and Paul Frees. There's a lot to listen to out there!

Al Anderson

Al, do you have any favorite Phil Harris-Alice Faye shows that you could recommend to a listener who is not familiar with that program? Also, if someone is starting out, is there one volume of Phil Harris-Alice Faye that you could recommend? Do you have a 2nd choice? (If you don't mind, I'd like to include a few of your suggestions in my next Tips from a Fellow OTR fan.)

Steve

Thanks, Steve. Here are my thoughts: The first two season 1946-1948 are weaker...in these the show is called "The Fitch Bandwagon" but it's essentially the same show. Also, the sound quality of those episodes has some issues (unless OTRCAT has recently fixed them). I think the show really takes off in the 1948-1949 season, where Rexall is the sponsor. The show has a very high batting average from that point on, but I feel there's a slight dropoff in the final season (1953-1954). The first Rexall season starts in the middle of OTRCAT's Volume 1, so perhaps if you were just going to buy one Volume to check it out you should start with Volume 2 (or 3 through 5). Volume 6 is the last season so I wouldn't start there. The reason you might want to start with Volume 2 is that if you start with later episodes you might have a hard time catching all the running gags. For example, in classic episodes Phil gets into some big trouble and goes to his friend Frankie for help, and Frankie will say he can help because "I know a guy.." The audience will always laugh, because they know Frankie's "guy" is sure to be a sleazeball who will make the problem worse. Then the bombastic grocery boy Julius (who loves Alice but can't stand Phil and Frankie) will somehow get involved to make the problem even worse. Alice is a very long-suffering wife... If you just wanted to sample an episode I think any one or two chosen at random from the 1948-1953 seasons will give you a good taste.

Al Anderson

Thank you so much Al. I will be including some of your suggestions in my upcoming article. One more question: if you are comfortable with it, can you tell me where you live so I can add something like "Al Anderson from...highly recommends the Phil Harris/Alice Faye show. If you are new to the series, Al recommends that you start with Volume 2 from OTRCAT so you can get the flavor of their gags and humor. How does that sound?

Steve

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