While locked away in durance vile the last several months I resumed an old habit of mine, a most enjoyable one: listening to streaming OTR (Old Time Radio) shows. There are a handful of enthusiast sites out there who have somehow acquired catalogs of every episode of radio classics like The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, Jack Benny, and one of my own personal favorites, Gunsmoke. Honorable mention goes to the finely-crafted CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which ran on the CBS radio network from 1974 to 1982. RMT was a loving kiss blown back to OTR by people who clearly held a tremendous affection for the old programs of yore, a most worthy homage for a most deserving art form.
One of the best things about RMT is that whoever collected all those episodes (evidently, some fellow in Seattle whose name I don’t know) didn’t trim away the commercials and newscasts that went along with those old shows. The old Budweiser ads (one even features Engelbert Humperdink crooning the old “When you say Bud…” lines in the inimitable Humperdink style, bless him) are wonderful to hear again, but the real revelation is the news breaks.
The contrast between what mainstream journalism was then and the vampiric, dishonest obscenity that disgraces its older, better sibling today is truly striking. Even the voice tone, phrasing and delivery from 1974 is markedly different: calm, sober, non-sensationalistic, just an even-handed recitation of the day’s happenings without trying to promote a position or pimp an ideology.
I was a huge fan of RMT during its original run and lived in a house whose unquestioned lord and master, my dad, diligently had the Whole Fam Damily in front of the TV for the evening news each and every night, and I can’t say I remember the difference between then and now being so stark, so obvious. But there just ain’t no arguing with the tapes. It serves to highlight what a low point the squeaking, chipmunk-voiced propagandizing of our present-day news readers represents. The wreckage they’re responsible for creating at every level of our society speaks for itself, I think.