THE COMPUTER AND OLD TIME RADIO
By Larry Siskind
This article is being written for those who collect old time radio (“otr”) or who just enjoy listening to the great classic shows. If you are afraid of computers, don’t worry, I have avoided technical jargon as much as possible and then only after defining the term used.
Being a first generation otr listener, I remember hearing Jack Benny, Amos & Andy, and Captain Midnight as youngster. My old Philco cathedral radio had two knobs, an off-on/volume knob and a tuning knob. In those days everything was so simple. Like most people of my generation, I don’t like continual, emergence of new fangled devices. They are complicated and intimidating. When the personal computer came along, I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Only it didn’t. Reluctantly I struggled to master the electronic monster and never quite succeeded. The computer along with other new gadgets is engulfing and devouring the familiar objects we love. Some of these are already dead and others are endangered species. Gone are the typewriter, the Walkman, and the VCR. Struggling for survival are cassettes, magazines, newspapers and even the familiar land-line telephone.
What about the radio? Like it or not the radio set is obsolete. It is slowly being swallowed by the computer, with a high-speed Internet service and with a speaker ( for purposes of this article I assume that these items are being used with the computer ) can receive without static, in all weather conditions at any time, hundreds of radio stations in the United States, Canada and overseas.
A small laptop equipped with a speaker can double for a portable radio.
For a collector of otr shows, space is important. Large accumulations of cassettes and reels can take up an entire room. By means of compression a single disc in audio MP3 format can hold up to 100 shows. A shoe box of such discs can hold thousands of shows. A collector can also store huge numbers of shows on his computer’s hard drive. By copying material to another hard drive outside his computer, he can prevent loss due to computer failure.
MP3’s have come under fire because compression can reduce sound quality. I find that if the sound quality of the program, before being converted to MP3, is good , the disc when played back should also be good. Discs are less expensive than cassettes and reel to reel tapes and can quickly and easily be copied. No winding or re-winding is necessary: but they can be damaged by excessive heat , by dropping or dust or dirt. Since discs are relatively new, we do not know how long they will last. Unlike others, I am keeping my cassette collection. Some of these were recorded 45 years ago and the sound remains as crisp now as it was then.
A website is a location on the Internet containing visual and audio information. If one has access to a website, one can view or hear information contained therein. And if allowed, copy it or save it to one’s own computer or other device. Any otr lover with a computer and basic knowledge of computer usage, can book passage to otr heaven. There are hundreds of websites of all types devoted to otr and new radio drama. In this article I am concerned only with those sites offering free otr for the listening or for saving and storing.
Of course if you do not have time or inclination to find otr shows on your own, there are many dealers who will gladly sell you discs of otr shows through their websites. Some discs I have purchased contain incorrect titles, have multiple copies of the same show, and are of poor sound quality.
One can listen or download (store on your computer ) or copy to discs, cassettes, iPods etc. 24 hours a day, thousands of old time radio shows. The overwhelming majority of these shows are of excellent sound quality. I know this because I have done it. Best of all one can continuously discover new websites with still additional programs. Some 30 minute shows can often be downloaded in 5 seconds or less, others in real time.
The site addresses given below may be incomplete and can be confusing and overlapping. Some may not work. The best way to find a website is to go to Google.com and then type in the name or reference as given below, then click “search”.
I have divided my favorite free websites into three categories: Streaming, Archive fast, and Archive slow. The many sites containing lists and information concerning otr but not offering specific shows for listening or downloading, have been ignored. Some sites have commercials but far fewer than commercial radio.
These sites offer otr ( sometimes mixed with music and talk ) continuously and often for 24 hours. You listen to these sites like traditional radio at the time your favorite program is aired. To learn this time you check schedules which are usually shown on the website. By means of software a particular program can be transferred to your computer. With free software, which can easily be downloaded onto your computer, and which is available on the website, you can save the show into your computer or burn to discs. You can also record to cassettes or to iPods.
My own show, Radio Adventure Time, alternates weekly with Bob Herman’s program. It is presented under the title, Radio Remembered, and is part of the Radio Theater Channel.” It is presented through the courtesy of REPS’ own Jim Dolan. The time shown on REN’s website is Eastern time so you must deduct three hours for Pacific time. Radio Remembered is aired Tuesday at 1:00am, 5:00 am and 5:00pm Pacific time. Do not neglect RTC’s treasure chest of other shows. Many radio stations have streaming Internet service. KIXI am 880
can be heard through your radio or computer. Saturday and Sunday Evenings you can hear Imagination Theater, Twilight Zone and When Radio Was. Otr is also heard on KIXI and on your computer Monday- Friday , 8 to 9PM.
Some of my other favorite radio stations with streaming otr are: WNAR Lansdale Pennsylvania (A radio station known as "We're Nostalgic About Radio.") , WRVO.fm Syracuse NY, CHQR Calgary Alberta (two hours of old time radio nightly at 10pm Pacific Time, WPR Wisconsin Public Radio ( three hours of old time radio Sat and Sun 6-9pm Pacific Time ), WDCB Chicago Illinios features Those Were the Days with host Steve Darnell Saturdays 11am to 3pm Pacific Time. The program can be heard on demand for one week after the initial Saturday broadcast at www.nostalgiadigest.com . Just click on "Those were the Days", WIND am 560 also out of Chicago presents Hollywood 360. Host Carl Amari presents 4 Old-Time Radio Shows each end every Saturday night from 5 pm to 10pm pacific time. Hollywood 360 spans "everything hollywood" from the golden age of radio and movies right up to today's most current headlines. Each week Carl interviews celebrities and industry experts to get you the inside scoop on Hollywood past and present. WBAI.org New York City (Golden Age of Radio hosted by Max Schmid 4-6pm pacific time Sundays), WAMU.org ( The Big Broadcast hosted by Ed Walker , Sunday 4-8pm pacific time ).
Schedules change frequently so please go to the website of each
station to confirm when old time radio is scheduled.
In the late 1970s I visited South Africa. It was like a trip back into the 1950s. On the bad side were racism and commuting hysteria. On the good side were low prices and otr in its classic format. It was all on SPRINGBOK RADIO. I had a portable radio and I recorded and brought back to with me ( to the U.S.) as many of these shows as I could. Some of these shows are now circulating among collectors. Alas, SPRINGBOK RADIO went off the air on December 31, 1985. Imagine my delight when I discovered, accidentally, springbokradio.com. You can now hear streaming such shows as The Avengers, Squad Car, Creeping Door, Beyond Midnight, Sound of Darkness, On Safari and many, many more. The schedule of these shows is posted on the website, but times must be adjusted to our local time zone. Also on SPRINGBOK, radio researchers can find information on SPRINGBOK’s past shows and there is even limited list of programs that can be heard or downloaded at any time.
OTHER STREAMING WEBSITES
One of the earliest otr websites, and after 25 years still going strong, is Yesterdayusa. This is produced by Bill Bragg from Richardson Texas. Besides otr, the site offers live Internet broadcasts weekly at 7:30 PM pacific time.
YUSA is also heard on cable and certain low powered AM/FM Stations.
Otrnow.com offers continuous otr with no interruption between shows. The shows being played are identified by another window that pops open.
ARCHIVED OTR SITES
Archived websites allow you to listen and download or record programs at any time. No schedules to fuss with. The list of programs on these sites can change daily, weekly or seldom. From time to time old sites die and new sites are created. There are two types of audio archives. Those which you can download instantly to your computer, called fast, and those which can only be downloaded or copies in real time., called slow.
FAST ARCHIVED SITES
These are great for the collector who wises to get as many shows as possible into his computer in the least amount of time. The single best web site is Audio Archives of Old Time Radio (archive.org/details/oldtimeradio). This site has many thousands of shows available for instant downloading. The shows are indexed by alphabet and subject matter. Many rare shows can be found in the singles and doubles category. You may need to take some time to learn the organization of the site to get to your favorite shows. It is well worth the effort. My second best fast site is calfkiller.oldtimeradio. Thousands of shows can be found here.
Other websites are:
changes weekly, lots of indexed shows)
SLOW ARCHIVED SITES
These websites can be listened to or saved to your computer in real time and at your convenience. Free software such as Audacity is sometimes required.
Each week Jerry presents two hours of otr, always with impeccable sound.
He often plays unusual and obscure shows. Attached to his network website is Tom Heathwood’s Heritage Radio Theater with more weekly otr. If that is not enough, you can also enjoy the Glowing Dial with John Matthews and Steve Urbaniak with still more otr. If you miss any of their weekly shows, not to worry, you can listen to or save shows going back to 2005 by clicking “archived previous broadcasts.”
Jim French’s programs can also be heard through the computer at jimfrenchproductions.com. Fresh shows are presented weekly with limited archives.
Other slow archive websites are:
If you would like to try your luck, go to Google.com and type in “free old time radio shows” or any other words which pertain to otr which your imagination can produce. You will be amazed with the results.
The only limitations to enjoying otr on your computer is your time and patience. If you are smitten with those ancient radio gems, I must conclude with this warning: when otr and the computer get together, the combination is habit forming and addictive.