Thursday, June 4, 2009

Old Time Radio Show Catalog

Don't know if y'all noticed but there's a new link over on the right. It's the Old Time Radio Show Catalog. It's a website you can get lost in. There is so much to look at and explore. The coolest thing is the "Daily Download," a sample of what was on the air on This Day in History.

A week or so ago, Jon, from OTRCat sent me an e-mail, said he'd read my blog, and wondered if I'd consign to post a link to his website here. I said yes and then prompted him into a short interview. I'll post that in a second. But first, a little about me and my own experiences with OTR.

My parents grew up in the 40s and radio was their primary medium for stories and news. By the late 70s, OTR was making its way onto cassettes and my parents bought their favorites. It was here, really, that I got my first taste of Abbott and Costello, The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and Sherlock Holmes. I really, really loved this old stuff. And, truth be told, the history aspect of these recordings probably contributed to my passion for history.

I memorized so many of these episodes that we had. What I particularly appreciate is the non-visual (natch) of these stories, letting us listeners fill in the gaps. Now, don't get me wrong: I love the spectacle of film and television but there's something special about being told a story. It's one of the reasons why I love audiobooks so much and get most of my news via NPR.

One example about the difference between print and OTR. The Basil Rathbone adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" is one of my favorite Holmes episodes. If you remember the story, Holmes signals Watson to start his portion of a ruse by raising his hand. Well, you certainly can't do that on radio. So, Holmes has a vocal cue for Watson and the listeners. It's a little touch but one that's necessary.

I forgot which version of Abbott and Costellos' "Who's on First?" routine I have. Since I listened to it over and over, it is the one by which I measure all subsequent versions.

Enough about me. On to the interview.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got interested in old time radio.

I've been collecting and trading old time radio shows for years. While living in Los Angeles, I remember fondly sitting in my car after a long commute to hear the end of a show on late night Radio Drama Hour AM radio. At that time, trading old radio shows was primarily done on open reels or cassettes (which were expensive to collect and any sizable collection quickly filled up rooms!) With the advent of MP3 technology and entire stack of recordings or season of shows could now fit on a single MP3 CD (up to 50+ hours). OTRCAT.com (Old Time Radio Catalog) began in 1999 primarily as a trading website to expand my personal collection from the golden age of radio, but I began offering copies of my collection for just $5.00 so everyone could listen to these incredible shows. The website has remained a family business and represents thousands of hours of research and work. With vintage photographs of the stars and studios, OTRCAT.com visitors can read detailed descriptions about the old time radio shows and radio stars while listening to their choice of thousands of full episodes online. We offer a 'daily downloads' section which offer a different broadcast of the day through radio history (from the last 50-70 years).

How do you find all these old and vintage recordings?

I've created network of collector friends which has gradually grown over the year via the internet.


What is your transfer process from analog to a digital format?

We have a dedicated PC hooked to an open-reel and cassette deck. We record the shows, cut and edit them with a sound editing program called SoundForge, and then encode the shows to MP3 format.


You have thousands of shows at your website. Do you have any personal favorites?

There are lots to like, but star-studded mystery programs such as SUSPENSE are hard to beat. X MINUS ONE is an all-time favorite radio program which adapted short science fiction stories by Bradbury and other sci-fi authors. Other programs such as Groucho Marx's YOU BET YOUR LIFE (a comedy quiz show) always make me chuckle and I have to admit I've listened to the full seasons of Jack Webb's DRAGNET many times through. There are a lot of gems in the comedy, drama, and even westerns with top-name stars of the day.

With the advent of podcasting, do you see storytelling in the style of old time radio making a comeback?

I think there is definitely a resurging interest now that the many shows are readily available. Increasingly people are opening up their personal collections (and many once thought lost recordings have surfaced in recent years). While OTRCAT.com is dedicated to the classic radio shows (primarily from the 1920's – 1959), I know there have been some recreation and quality new radio drama style programs produced in recent years, much of it abroad.

5 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

My family never listened to those old timey radio shows. Our radio was always tuned to the weather channel as I remember. I never actually heard one of those dramas until I was well into adulthood.

Chris said...

That site is a lot of fun. I'm listening to the Superman "Daily Download" right now.

These audio dramatizations are what inspired the adaptations I mention fairly frequently on my blog. I love the combination of different actors with sound effects. I also don't mind the more conventional audiobook read by one person, but the full-cast treatment is almost always preferable in my book.

Nice interview!

Scott Parker said...

Charles - Well, you can't go wrong with the OTR Catalog. I'll blog about my impressions of the episodes I'm receiving in the mail. One CD was detective shows and the other was a SF anthology show from the 50s.

Chris - I enjoy your write-ups on the LL adaptations. In fact, I plan on listening to some of them this summer. And thanks.

Barbara Martin said...

When I was a wee bit of a thing, before TV came to Edmonton, our family listened to the radio programs in the evening with my older brothers sitting on the carpet infront of the cabinet (like the old TV consoles). The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet and Buck Rogers were the ones I recall.

Scott Parker said...

Barbara - Love the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet. I've never hear the Buck Rogers OTR show. Man! Folks today don't know how to use their imaginations.