Category Archives: Adventure

21 September: Radio ad absurdium

Karl Swenson, at the height of his renown as Lorenzo Jones. (Photo: CBS.)

Karl Swenson, at the height of his renown as Lorenzo Jones. (Photo: CBS.)

Of two charming programs airing tonight in 1948, one is a series premiere. Picking the leadoff between them here is something akin to choosing between lobster fra diavolo and chicken cordon bleu for dinner, so I decided to pick according to age.

There’s no question but that Frank and Anne Hummert are old-time radio’s king and queen of the soaps, with misery, disaster, melodrama, and heartbreak their quadruple specialties. But even they seem to have needed a little relief from the afternoon anxieties to which their usual audiences repaired. They forayed into musical programming now and then (the couple were passionate music lovers, though Anne Hummert won’t have time for further indulgence until she retires upon her husband’s death) and a prime-time crime drama here and there.

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21 April: You won’t quite want to escape . . .

Future Frontier Gentleman John Dehner helps bring one of Gwen Bagni's witty Escape scripts alive. (Photo: CBS.)

Future Frontier Gentleman John Dehner helps bring one of Gwen Bagni’s witty Escape scripts alive. (Photo: CBS.)

If you think it’s the wit as well as the hard-wrought realism that makes Escape regarded as the pinnacle of old-time radio adventure series, be advised that the writer of tonight’s offering wrote seven of the series’ best-regarded-for-wit installments.

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4 April: The McGees didn’t always have it easy

The Jordans, at the height of their career. (Photo: NBC.)

The Jordans, at the height of their career. (Photo: NBC.)

At least twice upon a time the First Couple of 79 Wistful Vista and their nonpareil writers have been compelled to compensate on the air for a serious illness suffered by each partner. It speaks much that they were able to do it almost seamlessly, especially the first time around.

In 1937-38, about the most anyone associated with Fibber McGee & Molly felt compelled to say when Marian Jordan took a long leave of absence early in the season was that she suffered “nervous exhaustion.” As would be revealed only decades later, Marian Jordan—under enough pressure from the radio show, the frequent personal appearance demands, and trying to raise two children—suffered a long battle with the bottle, and at long last she surrendered and had herself hospitalised.

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28 March: A long, suspenseful road to success

Brian Donlevy as a blind sleuth tonight. (Photo: CBS.)

Brian Donlevy as a blind sleuth tonight. (Photo: CBS.)

Because its reputation will merely increase with time, as network radio’s classic era recedes further and further in the rearview mirror of American entertainment, it might be difficult for 21st Century fans to believe that it took several seasons before Suspense proved anything close to a ratings hit commensurate with its image as radio’s most sophisticated thriller.

Launched (as was Duffy’s Tavern) by way of the CBS anthology series Forecast in 1940, before becoming a full-time series in 1942, Suspense didn’t exactly begin with a bang—the show was nowhere to be found in Wednesday night’s top ten for 1942-43, and you’d have needed a homing pigeon to contact it past the overal top fifty.

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21 February: The hard road out of Dodge

William Conrad, Georgia Ellis (Miss Kitty), Gunsmoke mainstays. (Photo: CBS.)

William Conrad, Georgia Ellis (Miss Kitty), Gunsmoke mainstays. (Photo: CBS.)

With sixty years’ hindsight available, it will be possible to suggest that Gunsmoke came to radio just half a decade late. Written brilliantly for what it is, a horse opera without the cliches and melodramatic flourishes that have turned too many radio Westerns into comic fodder, Gunsmoke proves a hard sell to prospective sponsors in 1952-53.

The reason proves only too simple: network television has now taken stronghold enough that network radio is no longer a primary lure for sponsors no matter how good the show in question. Even if Gunsmoke‘s announcer could sign off truthfully by noting America now listens to 105 million radios, the nation has turned in earnest to television and won’t be turning away.

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