Audio ClassicsÒ Archive

My Favorite Old Time Radio Shows

By Steve Atlas
     I've been an Old Time Radio (OTR) fan ever since I began listening to "The Big Broadcast:" WAMU's weekly four-hour old time radio show, broadcast from Washington, D.C.  I began collecting OTR programs about 15 years ago, and have a fairly large collection.
     Unfortunately, it's not always easy to decide what programs and individual episodes you want to own.  Just take a look through Family Theatre, Gunsmoke, The Whistler, Jack Benny, or most other long-running programs.  You want to buy a few OTR CDs.  But where do you start?
     In this column, I will share a few of my favorite OTR programs, give a brief summary, and say why each episode is special.  You may not always agree.  Feel free to e-mail me at with any comments or suggestions.
     Do you have favorite OTR programs or episodes?  Send me a list of a few of your favorite programs and specific episodes.  (Be sure to include a brief summary, why you like the program and why it is one of your favorites.  Also include information about how other OTR fans can contact you.)  E-mail me at  In the Subject line, put "My Favorite OTR Shows."  Include your contact information, and no more than 5 specific episodes.  (For each episode, include the episode number and date it was broadcast.)
     For now, this will be a monthly column.  But, if there is enough interest, we can expand it to weekly or bi-weekly (every 2 weeks).
     Our goal is to make it easier for you to build your own OTR collections by sharing a few or our favorite shows and episodes.
This month, I want to include a few of my favorite Family Theatre episodes.
     Family Theatre, broadcast from 1947 - 1957, included 533 episodes.  The goal was to encourage family prayer.  This is where the popular saying, "The family that prays together stays together" was created.  A different host introduced each week's play, and followed the program with a brief talk about strengthening families and the importance of family program.
     The plays were not limited to religious themes.  Rather, the emphasis was on wholesome family entertainment such as dramas, occasional comedies, a few biographies, and occasional dramatic adaptations of classic books and stories.  Hollywood stars contributed their time as actors and/or hosts.
     There are so many great episodes that it's difficult to select just a few.  Here are 10 of my favorites.  (I'm including the Audio Classics Archive CD number in parentheses, in case you want to get it for yourself.)  I'm including the date it was broadcast and the episode number for each one. 
Family Theatre:
  02/13/47 # 1 Flight From Home: Jimmy Stewart (host), Don Ameche, and Loretta Young.
     In this first episode, host Jimmy Stewart tells us why Family Theatre was started.  "Flight From Home," deals with a topic still important today: communication and relationship problems and misunderstandings between a married couple.  The wife (Loretta Young) recalls the happy times, the bitter frustration about an accident that killed their unborn child, and how this bitter experience has affected both herself and her husband.
  02/20/47 # 2 No Night Too Dark: William Gargan (host), Beulah Bondi and Walter Brennan.
     How would you feel if you came home from a war blind?  How would your neighbors and sweetheart treat you?  This is the theme of "No Night Too Dark."  A young man comes home and rents a cabin, but refuses to see anyone - even his old girl friend.  Walter Brennan (always a joy to hear), as an old storekeeper, helps the boy overcome his bitterness and despair, learn to "see" with his hands and ears, and gain the self-confidence to reconcile with his girlfriend.
     (Both episodes 1 and 2 are on Audio Classics CD011419.)
  03/13/47 # 5 Let Us Remember: Robert Young (host), Claude Jarmen, Jr., and J. Carroll Naish.
     When you were younger, did your parents talk about giving money to help less fortunate people?  How did you feel?  What did you do?  In this moving drama, a teenage boy meets an immigrant who shows him what it might be like to grow up in a foreign country when you are poor, hungry and with no chance of getting a job.  Then tealing bread may be the only  way you can get food.  The show ends with the now sensitive teenage raising money from friends to give to his father to help those in need.
  03/20/47 # 6 Work Of A Lifetime: Edward G. Robinson (host), Pat O'Brien, Bill Williams.
     Do you ever think what it must be like to be in prison for a long time?  Who helps prison inmates?  In this stirring drama, Pat O'Brien plays Father Darcy: a priest who has worked in a prison for a long time, and is loved by his parishioners there.  He finally decides it's time to leave and go to a "real parish" in the outside world.  but an experience with one of his "boys" from the prison who tries to escape makes Father Darcy realize that his real vocation is back in the prison.
     (Both episodes 5 and 6 are on Audio Classics CD011421.)
Honesty and integrity in government is a concern we all share.  So did Family Theatre.
  05/25/1947 # 14 The Lonely Road: Gregory Peck
     Many of us have seen Gregory Peck in films like "To Kill A Mockingbird," and "Gentlemen's Agreement."  Peck excels in films celebrating personal courage and honesty.  In this Family Theatre program, he plays a U.S. Senator who is tempted, by a lobbyist, to betray his principles and withdraw a popular bill that will benefit most people in his state.  Because of money problems, this Senator is tempted to give up and do what the lobbyist wants.  His family prays for him, and he is visited by former President Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln shares some of his political challenges and helps the wavering Senator gain the courage he needs to do the right thing.  A wonderful program (in the tradition of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) that is still worth hearing many times!!
     (Audio Classics CD011425)
  05/30/1951 #223 Peppe Virgo: J. Carroll Naish
     Have you ever been accused of something you didn't do?  That is the subject of this Family Theatre drama.  Peppe Virgo, a naturalized citizen, is fired from his job as a food handler.  The problem: another person with the same name has caused contamination in several areas.  At the hearing, the health official states that our Peppe is the problem, and the firing is upheld.  Peppe's lawyer finds the other Peppe, and gets test results confirming that our Peppe (played by J. Carroll Naish) is not the culprit.  Unfortunately, the state courts refuse to order a new trial.  Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the original court, and orders a new trial.  The Happy Ending affirms the decency and fairness of the U.S. legal system.
     (Audio Classics CD011530)
  08/28/1947 #29 The World Of David Lee: Roddy McDowell, Ann Blythe narrator.
     A boy from the "wrong side of the tracks," Bud is accused of destroying some flowers.  Because he comes from a "bad family," Bud is immediately put in jail.  David Lee (played by Roddy McDowell) is a teen from a "good family" who doesn't believe that Bud destroyed the flowers.  Quietly, David investigates and finds the guilty one (the answer will surprise you).  This is a reassuring affirmation of the decency of modern (at that time) young people.  Listen to Roddy's comments after the play, and his plea for understanding and acceptance of young people by their parents and other adults.
     (Audio Classics CD011433)
Creativity and being open to new ideas and music is the theme of our next program:
  07/31/1947 #25 Decent To Paradise: Edgar Barrier, Natalie Wood, Philip Terry
     The program starts with a Chicago café owner stopping a man from jumping into the river.  Offering the man a job, the café owner discovers that his new employee is a pianist who has lost one of his hands.  He is also a father who is picking up his young daughter (Natalie Wood) the next day.  When the father and daughter enjoy a quiet picnic, Natalie Wood finds a distinguished concert pianist who agrees to hear her father's new piano piece.  He is so impressed that he decides to play it at a concert.  A beautiful performance and touching story about both the power of family love and the importance of believing in yourself and the works you create.
     (Audio Classics CD011431)
The last 2 programs are about overcoming stereotypes, and considering every person as a unique individual - rather than assuming they are just like "everyone else" in their group.
  05/28/1952 #273 The Baby Sitter: Barbara Hale, Lyle Becker, with Margaret O'Brien hostess.
     Even today, we assume that a "baby sitter" should always be a girl or woman.  That's what Nancy (played by Barbara Hale) thinks, when her husband (a respected high school coach) asks her to go to one of her meetings while he takes care of their infant son Jeff.  Reluctantly, Nancy goes.  Later, one of the coach's "boys" Bill comes over for a conference.  It turns out that Bill baby sits his own brothers and sisters all the time.  Nancy is upset.  Finally, she talks to her pediatrician.  He tells her that Bill baby sits his own children.  The programs ends by Nancy agreeing that her husband and Bill are both capable of taking care of her son.  (Too often, we assume that "sexism" is just at work.  Here, Family Theatre shows that men and boys can be effective at child care and babysitting.)
     (Audio Classics CD011555)
  11/13/1947 # 40 The Perfect Wife: Spring Byington, Ralph Morgan, with Lizabeth Scott hostess.
     Is taking care of a house and keeping it clean a wonderful thing to do?  Or is it just one way to show your love for your partner?  Emily (Spring Byington) is known throughout her community as the person who keeps a spotless house and cooks wonderful meals.  He husband goes to his job and tends to take her for granted.  Her grown daughter, Nancy, tells Emily that she should get out more, and not be so obsessed with keeping a spotless home.  But Emily doesn't want to hear this.  Things change when a new personnel director - a woman - is hired by his company.  The newcomer and Emily have lunch together, and Emily gains a new perspective.  She becomes less obsessed with housekeeping and buys a beautiful new dress.  Her husband begins to appreciate her in a new way.
     (Audio Classics CD011438)
These are just a few of my favorite Family Theatre programs.  What are your favorite shows and episodes?  What do you think of this column?  Send me your opinions and comments by clicking on:

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Copyright © 2012 by Steve Atlas.  All rights reserved.

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