You know what? I’m not going to be able to take this for a few days. I’ve got a forty minute commute, each way, each day, and usually I spend it poking the buttons on newsradio and screaming at it for more. But today…the gloating and the analysis and the…the…oh, god, the Pelosi. I just can’t take it.
So here’s what I’m a-gonna do on my commute for a few days, until the smug clears: Old Time Radio (known to its friends, immediate family and Google, if you’re looking, as OTR). I’ve gotten addicted to this stuff in the last year or so. Most of the classic radio serials have fallen out of copyright and are available in various degrees of free on the internet. Some sites want you to subscribe to access their total collection, but give you samples for free. You could spend a lifetime just grazing the freebies. Once you find a series you like, though, you can usually find the whole thing collected on handy CD’s or DVD’s on eBay for a few bucks each. You’re paying for the time spent digitizing the recordings, and the disc, and a nice label…and every one I’ve bought has been hours of harmless, educational joy.
You’ll definitely want to sample first. Some of the serials I assumed I’d like, I didn’t. Boston Blackie, which I remember as being fun on TV, was mild to moderately painful on radio (did his nemesis have to be Inspector Faraday every damn week?). Terry and the Pirates was made for kids, and sounds like it was made by them (but the ads are fun).
My favorite so far is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (“America’s Fabulous Freelance Investigator” AKA “the man with the action-packed expense account”). It ran from 1949 to 1962, with several different Johnnies. He’s an insurance dick. Yes, okay…but he’s only moderately hard boiled and the series is pretty decent. His tells the story while dictating his expense account. Good fiction, plus you learn what stuff cost in paleolithic times (food, cheap. Plane rides, car rental and long distance phone calls, muy expensive).
I’ve just about finished all six-hundred-something episodes, sadly. So I’m switching over to The Black Museum, narrated by Orson Welles, which ran for a year in 1952. I’ve decided Welles’ ‘genius’ was having a deep voice, slowing down and speeding up his delivery in disturbingly random places, and pausing inappropriately (ohmigod! He hesitated between “and” and “the”! Brilliant!).
But the series is good. There really is a Black Museum at Scotland Yard, which holds bits of evidence from classic cases and death masks of some of England’s more interesting hanged murderers. It’s not open to the general public (man, how I would love a tour before they totally ruin it. I read recently that they’re changing the name, because…oh, fill in your own goddamned blank). I’m a lifelong fan of True Crime, and many a classic book collection is built around objects in the Museum. So far, I’ve recognized nearly all the cases as genuine, though oddly they’ve changed the names. Presumably to protect their artistic license, which they do exercise fairly freely.
After this, I think I’ll take on some horse operas. I was never a fan of the cowboy serial, but some of the ones I sampled were surprisingly smart and fun. I suppose by sheer weight, there had to be some good ones.
And if you, like me, think Apple is for pussies and hippies, you can at least thank the iPod for driving down the cost of more bluecollar tech. I got this Sandisk 512 meg MP3 player for, like, $20. Refurbed. No, you won’t get your entire CD collection on it (unless you have a pathetic CD collection), but you can fit nearly 40 hours of radio plays on it.
That won’t get us through until ’08. But…one day at a time, sweet Jesus.