Best radio shows from from 1940s to the end of the 20th century

UPDATE 2019-08-05: Added links to for shows to

This is second in a series started with a review of comedy acts in the 20th century.

Old Time Radio is enjoying a comeback. There are plenty of original and creative shows recorded over the years and have expired copyright which makes them great for repackaging and reselling. There is great selection on ISOHunt and for sale on Amazon. These are a great way to pass the time if you are driving for hours each day.

The shows

I downloaded several torrents and with "best of" packs as well as individual show archives. There are many series in the sets, some longer running story shows include: CBS Mystery Theater (ghost stories), X Minus One (sci-fi), Tom Corbett Space Cadet (sci-fi), Escape (variety), and Sherlock Holmes audio books. Other "late night" shows include The Bob Hope Show, and NBC Summer Theater.

The best rated show, with deserved merit, hands-down is the 1938 radio adaptation and broadcast of War of the Worlds. It is easy to understand how this broadcast caused a real-world panic -- but it is surprising that this novel broadcast format has never been reused in any significant way since then. The immersion is a significant part of the show, with regular decoys from a broadway show to make the listener forget that they are experiencing a science fiction story and instead make them believe they are enjoying a concert with alarming interruptions. The musical scores are numerous and span over one minute in length each. In modern cinematography this is unheard of, with "TV interruptions" on the screen for less than 3 seconds. They really did it right with this show, and everyone should hear it once.

A second place is A Logic Named Joe, a radio adaptation on X Minus One in 1955 of the short story by the same name. Since Old Time Radio shows are so long (> 20 minutes) it is hard to recommend a show for general appeal unless you are already a fan of that category -- suspense, ghost stories, science fiction. However A Logic is such a notable piece, and the radio adaptation does it justice, because of specific and correct technology predictions it made. The story was written in 1946. At this time only several "computers" existed, none of which were general purpose, and most were classified; phone, meanwhile, had just recently been updated to integrate the speaker and microphone into the same unit. This story predicts personal computers which are networked together, have messaging capability, and an incessant need to collect and publish their users' personal information for gossip. Along with other specific predictions, this is literally on the money 60 years into the future. Also notable is how this piece does not fall into the trap of false predictions that are made by other science fiction pieces set in the future. Everyone should be able to appreciate the success this story has made in predictions when listening to the show.

Predictions for the Future and Sci-Fi Themes

A common theme in science fiction in the past and today is prediction of future technology. Some odd predictions and other common themes are here.
  • Mass-market, sentient devices which turn on their owners for self preservation
  • Computers that violate Gödel's incompleteness theorem
  • Time travel -- with paradoxes: allowed, leading to explosions, resolving themselves
  • Space travel by astronauts that would clearly fail a psychological exam
  • Faster-than-light travel
  • Odd things on the dark side of the moon
  • Aliens achieving space flight but failing to reconnoiter our atmosphere
Also, in the advertisements every brand name was always spelled out. "Gilette, that's G-I-L-E-T-T-E".


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