Gimme That Old Time Radio

images2I love radio dramas.  The “theatre of the mind”.

Yes, indeed.

I’ve had the good fortune to write a number of radio plays and, as has been mentioned, one of them just aired nationally on CBC Radio’s “OutFront” program.

But listening to the old stuff is what really gives me pleasure.  Recently, I purchased a personal CD/MP3 player and, despite my well-documented techno-phobia, was able to hook it up to the stereo in my office.  Thus, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been kicking back after a hard day of scribbling, listening to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and his amiable (if slightly dotty) companion Dr. John H. Watson…I also have the complete “Sam Spade” series starring Howard Duff and the four-disk dramatization of Les Miserables, produced and starring the one and only Orson Welles.


Radio, in its heyday, presented news, live sports, game shows and various types of entertainment, from comedy revues to adaptations of classic works of literature.

Now we have “talk radio”, Howard Stern and the shock jocks and “classic” stations playing the same tired playlist of golden oldies.  Even the venerable CBC has dumbed itself down in the past five years, desperately seeking a younger demographic and losing its traditional listeners in the bargain.

It breaks my heart when I think of a time when the folks at CBC used to let the likes of Glenn Gould have the run of the place, accommodating his odd lifestyle by letting him come in and record and mix at any hour, working meticulously to create material like “The Idea of the North”, which I managed to snag on long playing record a number of years ago.

The Mother Corp. once had a dedicated radio drama arm in the good ol’ days but not any more.  They no longer consider it part of their purview to develop young writers and there is currently no equivalent of  “CBC Playhouse“…and that’s too bad.

dimensionI have, I confess, a particular soft spot for science fiction on the radio and I’ve been fortunate to find a couple of sites (check out this one and Calfkiller is fun too) where you can find shows like Dimension X and X Minus One, Mindwebs and others. Fun adaptations of classics of the genre by the likes of Arthur C, Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Henry Kuttner, etc.  Once I figure out how to create MP3’s of these beauties, I’ll be able to listen to them up in my office as opposed to being relegated to the family computer down on the main floor, where I have to queue up, vying for time with my two sons (both of them World of Warcraft junkies, as well as using said PC for their homework and designing their own computer games).  The computer I use for my writing is an old Mac, too old and decrepit for cyberspace, a word processor plain and simple.

The nice thing about the sites I’ve just mentioned is that you can listen to the programs for absolutely nuttin’ and, believe me, you will be entertained.

Listening to a radio drama requires the listener to visualize an entire universe being created purely with words and sound effects.  It’s the perfect format to enliven long car trips and commutes.  Thanks to the internet, these programs live again, a case where state of the art technology enables us to access an art form that is, sadly, little known and certainly under-appreciated.

holmesI will continue to write radio plays and when the time comes that no one airs them, I will produce them myself, through podcasts.  I love the special limits and demands radio drama imposes on writers and can never quite suppress the shiver of excitement I feel when I hear an announcer introducing Lux Radio Theatre’s production of To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Petri Wine presenting “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.

I feel sorry for anyone who’s never heard a really well-rendered radio play. It is an experience not to be missed…and yet so many do.



  1. phil

    Very well put. Yes it is a shame that cbc and others are catering to specific demographics and moving away from good radio content. Hopefully you can keep the torch going Cliff.


  2. Mike Cane

    Ah, Cliff!! OTR (Old Time Radio) is one of the firstest MP3s I downloaded and have continued to over the years. Yeah, those Rathbone/Bruce Holmes are killer. And X Minus One!!

    Do you know about Jean Shepherd?

    You can’t have a complete radio experience without *him*. Warning: It’ll break your heart, what we were deprived of.

    You might also want to look up CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It ran for years and years. They tried valiantly, but with the same people in every damn show and nearly the same damn writer and same cheap sound effects, it was less than inspiring.

  3. Wayne K

    Hey Cliff!
    Wayne here. I was talking to the lovely Mrs. Burns on facebook when I saw her mention that someone in her house was listening to his Old Radio Plays! And I started questioning her! And she passed this link on to me! Well said! I passed a link on to her to pass on to you! Lots of the great radio collections, very cheap, in mp3! I have a bunch of Orson Welles old Black Museum episodes kicking around if you are interested, I could fire them on to a mp3 CD for you! What are some of your favourites? I like Dragnet, The Six Shooter (with James Stewart!), Inner Sanctum, and probably my favourite would be Richard Diamond, Private Detective. If you like Sam Spade, I think you would love Richard Diamond! Dick Powell is great in the series as Diamond! I have the entire series and most of them don’t even have that Old Radio sound. Most sound like they may have been taken from a master tape somewhere! Let me know! And keep that torch going!

  4. William Spear


    Kudos for your play airing on “OutFront”. May you have many more successes.

    Perhaps the shifting economics of broadcast television will encourage that industry to integrate radio drama into its portfolio of entertainment options. Radio has equal production value at a fraction of the cost. Plus streaming audio via the web is more accessible than video.

    Please continue to share news on yor future works.



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