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Tips from a Fellow OTR Fan Issue 6: Presidents Day

By Steve Atlas

Hi. My name is Steve Atlas. Like most of you, I am a lover of Old Time Radio (OTR). I want to thank OTRCAT for making these collections available at such an affordable price. I have built a collection of over 100 Instant Download MP3s

My problem is there are so many OTR programs that even if I buy a collection, I am not sure which individual programs I would enjoy most. What collections are good choices if you can only pick a few? Do any of you have similar dilemmas?

Gracie for President

Then this newsletter is for you. Here, I recommend some of my favorite OTR collections, and a few of my favorite programs, as well as tips and suggestions from other OTR fans. I hope you too will share some of your favorites with other OTR listeners.  I may be recommending a few programs that I have already featured in earlier issues of Tips from a Fellow OTR Fan—but only if there is a special reason for doing that.

Are you thinking about the Presidential Election?

Sometimes, write-in candidates do win. In 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for a 3rd term against Wendell Wilkie from the GOP and—unexpectedly Gracie Allen from the Surprise Party. Here is a link to an article about Gracie Allen’s campaign for President, and a collection of episodes from her campaign: . (Be sure to read Gracie’s concession letter to FDR.)

Do you find yourself thinking about the Good Old Days?

It’s easy to become nostalgic about the days of our childhood and long for the way things used to be. Sometimes, these can lead to truly beautiful memories and radio programs such as "An Old Fashioned Christmas" in which Martha Scott takes us back to an idealized turn of the century small town. A truly beautiful experience—and worth listening to any time of the year. If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone, "A Visit to Willoughby" contrasts the frenzied present with the beauty and peace of a turn of the century small town with its bands and merry go rounds.

Then, there is The John Charles Thomas Show series. Storyteller John Nesbit takes us back to a visit to Old Town (about 15 minutes into that program). Like Martha Scott, Nesbit waxes eloquent about the good old days and the small houses and friendliness of the neighbors. But then, he shows us the other side of that period—the diseases, cramped living quarters, the overworked domestic workers, and more unglamourous examples about the not-so-good old days. Nesbit is a charismatic and mesmerizing storyteller. Listening to him can be hypnotic.

How do you listen to Old Time Radio?

CavalcadeSome programs (for example Father Knows Best, Gunsmoke, Cavalcade of America to name only a few) have so many shows that it can be hard to know where to start. One of our readers, Bill, has an unusual way to select what he will hear:

"I have been collecting my favorites, "The Jack Benny Program," "The Green Hornet," "Fibber McGee," "Duffy's Tavern," "Gildersleeve" from OTR cat for YEARS, and also checking the box for my sampler CD. I have all the samplers now, and upon perusing my collection one day, I realized that I already have a substantial collection of shows of which I hadn't sampled. My solution has been to pull every episode of every show in my collection for listening in a playlist on the day it was broadcast. For example, as I type this, I'm listening to every program in my collection that aired on October 19th. They're slotted in chronological order. This has been an extremely fun experience for me, as there is a great variety in the programming each day, yet my favorites are all almost always represented by at least two or three episodes in the rotation."

My strategy is to pick the current month and then to select at least one program from every year that the show was aired. For example, since February is almost here, I am focusing on Cavalcade of America. I select one program from February in each year (1936-1953) to listen to (more if I have time). Right now, I have covered the years from 1936-1942.

How do you decide what OTR programs you will hear?

Focus on U.S. History:

Since February is the birth month for 2 popular U.S. Presidents: George Washington (Feb. 22), and Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), this is a good month to explore American history on Old Time Radio. Here are a few ideas:

Edward MurrowsEdward R. Murrow: This legendary news broadcaster covered World War 2 from London and has several broadcasts in which he and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (chairman of the U.S. House Un American Activities Committee) exchange attacks. Murrow is credited with playing a large role in the downfall of the controversial Senator who is best known for his often-unfounded attacks on entertainers, political leaders, and other prominent citizens by calling them Communists. You can relive many of these historic moments by listening to Volume 1. The Edward R. Murrow collection also includes many of his World War broadcasts and excerpts from a variety of other episodes.

Destination Freedom: February is also Black History Month. This 1948-1950 program celebrated the accomplishments of notable black men and women and confronted the Jim Crow and lynching mentality of the segregated U.S. South. In his introduction to this series, Jon (founder of otrcat.com) tells us that Destination Freedom set the stage for the Civil Rights movement and the drive for black equality and equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

My special favorite is the show about Duke Ellington:

Other shows spotlight mediator Dr. Ralph Bunche, poet Langston Hughes, boxer Joe Louis, peanut researcher George Washington Carver, jazz pianist Thomas "Fats" Waller".

I highly recommend this series. It is both entertaining and informative and provides a unique perspective on black history before the Civil Rights era.

Two other programs that I enjoy and highly recommend:

CavalcadeCavalcade of America: (1936-1953): Sponsored by the DuPont company of Wilmington (DE), these programs (with only one short commercial about DuPont at the end of each program) celebrate not only well-known historical episodes, but also everyday life from 1600-the mid-20th century. If possible, take time to listen to the programs from 1936-1940. These early shows are generally 15 minutes each, and 2 of them are included on most Cavalcade programs. Loving music, I enjoyed Songs that Inspired the Nation (March 4, 1936):

Other favorites of mine include , George Gershwin (Feb. 27, 1939), and Victor Herbert (July 8, 1936). I also enjoyed the programs about Loyalty to Family (Feb. 5, 1936), Mark Twain (January 30, 1939) and Edgar Allen Poe (Feb. 16, 1941).  As I explore the later years of Cavalcade, I will have more favorites to share with you.

Mr. President: Can you imagine being a different United States President every week? Well, Edward Arnold did that for 5 years (1948-1953). This is one of my favorite OTR series.

Each episode features a lesser-known incident in the life of a President. The name of the President is not given until the end of the program. That gives each listener an opportunity to guess who the President of the week is. My only dilemma is to decide which President I want to learn more about.

Several presidents (for example George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) are featured in several different programs—each one describing a different incident. For example, Washington is featured on November 27, 1947; March 28, 1948, and July 31, 1949. Lincoln is featured on January 11 1948, July 25 1948, Sept. 19 1948, and April 2 1949. Here is a link to a favorite Mr. President program with George Washington:

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. Do you have requests for other themes or programs you would like me to include in a future article? If so, please also leave a comment below.

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