New Time Radio - Part 2

While talk radio is something I have spent years listening to, it is only part of what I like about New Time Radio. Outshining the chatter there are documentaries, dramas, comedies, variety programs, and interviews originating in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. I would usually taped everything I listened to for both time-shifting and the possibility that I might want to add it to my collection. Some of what I have saved is on reel-to-reel tape and the rest is on cassette, some of which is shown on the right.

Let's take a look at some of what I have consummed over the decades.

Modern Dramatic and Comedy Productions

When I think about the best examples of dramatizations for new radio, the radio versions of the Star Wars trilogy immediately comes to mind. These were made starting in 1981 and co-produced by National Public Radio and the BBC with expanded scripts, the original music and sound effects, and some of the original actors. I have listened to these multiple times and, with the exception of the final one, Return of the Jedi, I find them better than the films and they proved the viability of radio shows in the latter half of the 20th-century.

Of course, the BBC had never stopped producing radio drama, comedy, mysteries, variety, and quiz shows and continues to do so to this day. Much of what NPR has aired, particularly on the NPR Playhouse were orginally aired on the BBC. Over the years I have listened to many, many hours of these productions and find them as engrossing and entertaining as anything produced in America during the Golden Age of Radio. For the most part they are in a serial format. Here are some of my favorites:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - An immediate hit for me combining a good science fiction narrative with the wit and humor of Monty Python. Written by Douglas Adams.

The Philip Marlowe Series - This BBC production of the Raymond Chandler novels works because of the tight scripts and, to a large degree, on Ed Bishop's portrayal of the sleuth. These were produced from 1977 to 1988.

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham's famous post-apocalyptic novel, which was a dreadful movie in 1962, has been given a proper radio adaptation several times. The first, done by the BBC in 1957, might be my favorite due to the lo-fi quality adding to the storyline. The more recent productions, 1968 and 2001, are also done well, even though abridged.

Other John Wynham Stories - The Midwich Cuckoos and The Chrysalids were well-done adapatations. Others included The Kraken Wakes, The Trouble with Lichen, and Chocky. These radio shows did prompt me to read the original novels which are lots of fun.

Orbit One Zero - A fun science fiction drama from 1961.

Earthsearch - Another multi-part science fiction series from the BBC with 20 30-minute episodes produced from 1981-1982.

Pay Any Price - Dramatization of the Ted Allbeury novel of intrigue that mixes a spy story about mind control with the assasination of John Kennedy.

Agatha Christie Novels - The works of this prolific author have been dramatized by the BBC over the years and the are great, especially Hercule Poirot.

Hancock's Half Hour - This BBC comedy featured comedian Tony Hancock who playes a character much like Jack Benny, but British.

John Le Carre Novels - Last but not least in this list are the spy novel dramatization of this author. "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and all the George Smiley novels are exceptional.

This list is, out of necessity, abridged, as the there so many great serials I have listened to. And yes, I have recorded many of them and, with the Internet, I have amassed a fairly large, and still waiting to be cataloged, collection. My guess is that I have well over 100,000 shows. But I want to look at American productions again.

Joe Frank

Back in the late 1970s I was working on a midnight shift in a photofinishing lab. To keep my sleep patterns regular, I kept those same hours on the weekends, meaning that my "day off" was from 10pm to 2-3pm the next afternoon. Staying up all night was a great time to get into my own darkroom and get lost in the process of photography. I usually load my reel-to-reel deck with a tape that would play for a few hours and that was piped into the darkroom. Sometimes it was music, sometimes Old Time Radio shows, but other times I just tuned the receiver into the radio. One night, about 3am, the station I listened to played 4 stories that blew me away. They were simple and bit off-beat, and the narrator's voice sucked me in and forced me to pay attention. When the stories ended a voice came on and said that this had been "Lies" by Joe Frank and if I wanted to buy a cassette copy.....I took notes and the next day called the numeber (I think it was NPR) and ordered the tape. Wow!

He is somewhat difficult to describe. His shows are usually in the form of a monologue with background music and, sometimes, ambient sounds. They are at the same time humorous, touching, philosophical, surreal, and always engaging. He started showing up on NPR Playhouse as 30-minute stories, always somethig different. A few really stick out in my memory such as "The Queen of Puerto Rico," "Sales," and my favorite, "Questions." In 1986 he was given a slot on KCRW, an NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, CA, a job he had for about 30 years. As I remember it, he had a 2-hour slot to fill on Saturday nights and he sometimes did it live. I rolled tape every chance I got and have about 60 hours of his work from the mid- to late-1980s. Some of his stories spanned several shows are are many hours in length.

One very memorable show he titled "No Show" and was done live. He spent the time explaining why he had no show prepared for that evening. It turned out that a screenwriter had plagiarized part of his "Lies" stories and it was now the basis of major motion picture called "After Hours." I had just seen that film a week or two prior and was surprised by the similarity in the story line and figured that Joe and sold it but I hadn't seen his name in the credits. After all, would two people really come up with the same narrative that involved a guy taking a cab to a woman's apartment, having the money for the ride blow out the window, and finding out that the woman's roommate made decorative ceramic bagels? Joe had been given a heads up by a friend, went to the film, and was in the midst of taking action. He was distraught because, as I rememeber it, the plagiarist was suicidal and all of this had interfered with the production of Joe's own work. I do have this on tape and should probably listen to it again as it's been a few years.

Other New Time Radio

Other programming that I have enjoyed, over and over again since I have them on tape, are the "Castaway's Choice" shows produced by KCRW in the 1980s. This show was a knock off of the BBC's long-running "Desert Island Discs" that combines an interview with asking the guest which of their favorite recordings they would take to a desert island.

Another KCRW series in the 80s was "Funny Stuff," a 30-minute show hosted by Bob Claster where he played comedy records, sometimes on a theme and other times by a single commedian.

Finally, in an attempt to wrap up this section which could easily force the addition of into Part 3, Part 4, Part....

"Hour 25" was a program on KPFK that ran from 1972 to 2000 and focused on science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres, usually in book form but in film as well and even on radio. I listened, or time shifted on tape, to this 2-hour show through the later-1980s and still have 15 of them in my tape collection. During that era, Harlan Ellison was the host and it started out with 30 minues of chatter, news, and the calendar before it launched into the interview, usually with an author. It was always intersting, even if I didn't particularly care for that week's topic, as Ellison could be a very entertaining host. He was eventually asked to leave because he forgot they were live without a 7-second delay and he had dropped an F-bomb or two, or three. He came back as a guest in 1991. My favorite edition of the series was when they brought in Old Time Radio's great writer Norman Corwin as guest with Ray Bradbury. This is a must listen:

Hour 25 - with Norman Corwin and Ray Bradbury - March 31, 1989 (1 hour 38 minutes)

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Updated January 2021.