Mystery Over the Airwaves

Do you ever feel nostalgic for old time radio programs? I have only the vaguest recollection of listening to radio when I was a child so it’s probably what I’ve seen in old movies or nostalgia-fests like Woody Allen’s Radio Days that evoke a yearning for these vintage broadcasts.

Oldtime Mystery Radio

It never occurred to me that I’d probably find at least some old  broadcasts on the Internet until I landed on the Internet Archive.

I’ve been listening to the New Adventures of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. ‘New’ because there were other versions before the series I’m talking about which was first broadcast in the 1940s. That’s before my time, as they say, but when I realized what I had found, Rex Stout’s famous detectives were the first I looked for.

Sidney Greenstreet, Nero Wolfe

This series starred Sidney Greenstreet as Nero Wolfe, while Archie Goodwin was played by various actors. The stories weren’t based on any that Rex Stout wrote and apparently he couldn’t bear to listen to them because the plots were so bad.

Nevertheless, it’s a treat to hear Greenstreet’s portrayal of the massive gourmet orchid-wrangler and “world’s greatest detective.”

Greenstreet isn’t the only famous name you’ll find. Other programs feature Orson Welles (Mercury Theatre), Peter Lorre hosting I Love a Mystery, Dick Powell in Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Every program ends with Powell, who started his career as a song-and-dance man, singing to his lady love.

Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Alan Ladd, Vincent Price… they all had careers in radio, in some cases because they were already well-known in film. In other cases, their radio careers gave them a shot at Hollywood.

Orson Welles and his fellow actors put today’s presenters to shame. In a two-minute excerpt of There’s a Full Moon Tonight, Welles and his colleagues have a fake argument that’s all the more entertaining because it sounds completely natural and spontaneous.

Newspaper coverage of 1938 Orson Welles radio program that inspired panic in U.S.

Orson Welles also played Lamont Cranston in The Shadow until his famous turn in H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which convinced many listeners that Earth was actually being invaded by Martians. That opened new opportunities for him that put him beyond the budget of a weekly radio broadcast.

All the old mystery series – Ellery Queen, Boston Blackie, Bulldog Drummond, Philip Marlowe – are there along with their signature intros and music and even some of the original commercials, to my taste sometimes as listenable as the programs they sponsor.

The Sherlock Holmes collection is very well done.  Episodes that ran in the 1930s and 1940s with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson were later reproduced in the 1950s with John Gielgud as Holmes and Ralph Richardson as Watson and you can listen to both if you’re into comparisons.

There’s an adaptation of Casablanca starring Alan Ladd as Rick and Hedy Lamaar as Ilse.  You can listen to Lord Haw Haw, the German whose broadcasts were intended to break English resistance during WWII, and comedies like Abbott & Costello and Our Miss Brooks.

I’ve since discovered that the Internet archive isn’t the only web site where you can find these programs. I’ll let you discover others for yourself. A search provides you with so many links to follow and programs to listen to that you can get lost in this world… a great prospect.

Do you have a favourite old radio program? Tell me. Leave a comment.
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