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Last updated: October 30, 2018

 Listen Hear - Audio Theatre To Learn From

Advice from Tony "Sparx" Palermo

 My rave review of the box set of cassettes/CD's called "The 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century" (selected by Walter Cronkite) put out by the Radio Spirits label. This is from a post I made to the radio drama e-mail discussion list.

The Canon of Old Time Radio Drama -- a rave review 

From: Tony Palermo
To: Radio Drama List
Subject: The Canon of Old Time Radio Drama

Fellow radio creators:

As writers and producers, most of us have listened to a number of old time radio shows. But I'll admit I'm hardly as well versed in the OTR classics as I am in literature or music or cinema. Today, it's easy to go to the library or corner video store and get a hold of Shakespeare or Mark Twain, or Orson Welles or Hitchcock classics, but the OTR classics can be expensive or difficult to find. Well, no longer!

I just bought a tremendous collection of OTR shows put out by the Radio Spirits label
I highly recommend their 30 hour collection called "The 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century" (selected by Walter Cronkite.)

All the greats are here:
War of the Worlds
Sorry, Wrong Number
On a Note of Triumph --  Norman Corwin's famous V-E day show
The Hitchhiker
"Cat Wife" -- Arch Obler's Light's Out hit.
Three Skeleton Key
Brave New World
The Martian Chronicles

As well as great examples of the genre shows; Lone Ranger, Superman, The Saint, X-Minus One, The Shadow, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Gunsmoke, Let's Pretend, etc.

And plenty of comedy and variety shows; Chase & Sanborn Hour, Eddie Cantor, Abbot & Costello, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, The Bickersons,  Arthur Godfrey,  I Love Lucy, The Great Gildersleeve, etc.

I picked up the cassette collection for $30 at one of those Costco-club wholesale warehouse stores. You can also get it on CD, direct from Radio Spirits--at a higher cost (but still cheaper than You may have seen Radio Spirit's other collections "OTR's Greatest Detectives" (Mysteries, Westerns, etc.) Well, this collection tops them all for the breadth and quality of the shows.

I regularly do radio dramas at the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles and they have many of these shows in their collection, but unless you spend a lot of time at the museum, it's tough to find all the best programs at a good price with great sound quality. If there are no OTR broadcasts in your area--you've probably never heard most of these gems. Well...walk! Run! Click! Get this collection today!

Every one who works in radio will benefit by having this "canon" of radio drama close at hand. Just as in film and literature, if you've studied the classics--you can learn how it's supposed to be done. You can also hear just how great these radio artists really were. Like Leonard Maltin's excellent book on the radio arts, "The Great American Broadcast," this classic collection is an inspiration to writers/producers!

An example: I had read about the famous Escape! episode, "Three Skeleton Key" (where lighthouse keepers are invaded by a derelict ship overflowing with millions of rats), but I'd never heard it. I'm friends with Cliff Thorsness, the CBS sound effects wizard who won an award for his SFX on this 1950 show. Cliff even helped me with SFX for a similar rat effect on one of my shows. I had no idea his show was so good! Wow! This is great, gripping radio! It's the kind of stuff we'd kill to produce, even today! And at the end of the program--the announcer goes on to praise Cliff and his SFX team for their superb work. This show alone was worth the $30. It's a textbook example of using dialogue, music and sound effects to create "a world--before your very ears." Bravo!

Some may scoff at the notion of "moldy" old time radio--you've probably heard some melodramatic, clichéd junk--and written it off. Well, this ISN'T that junk--it's the absolute best and some of it will knock your socks off! Everything you are doing in radio has been done before--and probably done my somebody much better than you. You could learn something--I did.

I'm sure most current radio artists have heard "War of the Worlds," but there are many other great shows here that haven't gotten such exposure. If you were learning to compose dramatic underscoring, how good would you be if your only exposure to Bernard Herrmann was the shower cue from "Psycho" and you just "made up" the rest?

Get an education--a good education. You can start here. It's Radio Drama 101 in a box!

TONY PALERMO is a radio playwright, professional sound effects artist, radio director, composer, and educator based in Los Angeles, California.

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