Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone
In October of 1999, during a business trip to California, I had the opportunity to attend an exclusive private party on the retired luxury liner, the RMS Queen Mary. The former flagship of the White Star Line was reserved for this one very raucous bash. For me, parties usually involved two or three old friends and a single bottle of good wine. However, this was a fancy-pants event and because I am a plain old vanilla guy, I was now in way over my head.
My guide dog and I boarded the rowdy thousand-foot party boat. The gala host graciously assigned a staff person to walk with me and assist in my discovery of the multitude of food stations, music venues and bars. The Queen Mary had lots of bars.
As we walked along the decks and through the passageways, my human guide pointed out numerous live actors and actresses, who had been hired for the evening to impersonate famous dead ones. I was told they looked just like the originals. They also sounded and acted the same as their famous counterparts. We met with W. C. Fields, Mae West, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart.
And then, I ran into Marilyn Monroe. I had seen a couple of her films, and I was aware of her history, but I never quite understood her sex appeal. As we approached the counterfeit starlet, she whispered in her sultry and silky voice, "What kind of dog is that?"
My mouth dried up and my throat tightened. I heard my own words come out slurred and thick. "Uh, well, actually he's a Golden Retriever."
I began to sweat.
Marilyn moved in close. With a sigh, she cooed, "I'm a golden retriever, too."
Suddenly, irrevocably, thoughts of my family washed over me and I knew it was time to paddle fast. The Queen Mary would not, could not, become my Titanic. I immediately stumbled to the port side railing, gulping in lungfulls of cold ocean air. I waited for my pulse and blood pressure to drop to responsible fatherly values. OK. I now understood her allure. Thus began my fascination with the stars of old.
Shortly thereafter, my wife gave me a very thoughtful gift that has cost me a fortune in the years since. She bought me a packaged collection of 13 cassette tapes. It was the 1945 season of "The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, with Harry Bartell as the announcer. I discovered that, at least for me, old time radio was much better than film or television. It was "the theater of the mind." And, I realized that my one set of tapes was not enough. I was hooked.
I went to Barnes and Noble and bought another box of recorded cassettes. The selection included a few "Dragnet," "You Bet Your Life" and "The Burns and Allen Show." Each cassette could only hold two complete episodes, one per side. It took so many to get so little. As with all addictions, I coveted more. Much more.
My personal habits changed. Early on, I realized that I loved to sleep with my celebrity buddies. I began taking a portable cassette player to bed at night and listening to my old time radio friends. The only drawback was the occasional dent left in my side when I rolled over on top of the player in my sleep.
As I bought more and more shows on cassette tape, I finally broke down and converted my entire analog library to MP3 files. I decided it sure would be handy if I might find bunches of shows already digitized and ready to play. One of the resources I discovered was the Old Time Radio Catalog, found on the Web at OTRCAT. They sold data CDs packed with everything I wanted. I lost control of my wallet. Money flowed out, and as the disks poured in, I copied the contents to my network hard drives. Rest assured, I now have more wonderful Golden Age recordings than I can possibly listen to in a lifetime.
With my holdings finally online, I needed an MP3 player without hard edges. I found the APH Book Port. Using my desktop computer, I would periodically transfer many dozens of shows to the 2GB CompactFlash card in the device. I stored batteries in my nightstand to keep my Book Port ever ready. I enjoyed my collection through a very cheap mono ear bud. Sound quality was lackluster, but the setup was sweet.
The Book Port was my nightly companion for many years. Sadly, this perfect partner grew older and the interface began to feel inelegant. The file structure on the memory card lapsed into antiquity and I desired something younger. Fortunately, I had a recently retired iPhone 5S and it was slim and had a very soft and smooth leather cover. Time to upgrade.
The recycled iPhone 5S was ideal for the role. It had 64GB of memory on board and could connect via the net to everything I owned. This was great! I would not even have to lift my head off the pillow to load up more entertainment.
Naturally, I now required an app that would help me organize what would likely be hundreds of audio files on my iPhone and then make it easy to start and stop playback when drowsy or half-conscious. I chose Voice Dream Reader, not because it was overly simplistic, but rather because it was a full-featured product that was easy to use. I had read scores of text-based books with Voice Dream Reader and also really liked the way it handled audio file playback. In a recent update, the developer added powerful tools for maintaining identical hierarchies of files on multiple iOS devices. All I need to do is drop files that I want propagated into a special folder on my iCloud drive and Voice Dream Reader will ensure that all of my devices are synchronized. I frequently move files around from either my iPhone 6S Plus or my Mac mini. I can almost do this in my sleep.
As much as I love my nightly ritual, there are times when listening to old time radio shows are not conducive to peaceful slumber. I happen to really enjoy police and private eye shows. I spend many nights with the likes of Sergeant Ben Romero, Detective Danny Clover and Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. Back in the heyday of dramatic radio, there was no shortage of people screaming and cops barking orders. This can be a bit startling when you wear stereo EarPods to bed. And, predictably, this usually happens just as I am dozing off.
At night, I am always plugged into my bedtime iPhone. I frequently listen to news programs aired during World War II, and I thoroughly enjoy other offerings such as "Suspense," "Escape" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar." I even have an excellent collection of comedy, which includes Jack Benny and, of course, Edgar Bergen the ventriloquist, with his sidekick Charlie McCarthy. I only took exception to one of the Bergen shows, the one first broadcast on November 9, 1952. In that episode, the guest star was Marilyn Monroe and she was going to marry Charlie. It was rather disturbing. I never have figured out what she saw in that dummy.
*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University , Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.
Morgan is now happily retired again, playing his violin and writing for pleasure. Morgan has created a dozen other blogs for AppleVis, including “Small Talk: Speaking up on VoiceOver and the iPhone”, “Lesson Learned: iPhones and Orange Bugs” and “Socially Inept: Trying to make friends with Facebook”.
Hey Morgan, if you have the OO Tunes app, and I'm almost certain you probably do, there is a wealth of OTR streams available out there, and the app has a whole bunch of them listed. So, no longer will you have to organize all your files unless you want to hear something really super-specific. The great news is that most of the streams are by genre, so if you want to hear only cop/detective shows, there's a stream for that. Want scary/sci-fi stuff? There's a stream for that too. Want a mix of everything? There are at least 2 streams for that. I absolutely love OTR. I sometimes fall asleep to it with a stream on, and it's amazing. I was introduced to it when my grandparents went on vacation and brought me back some of those old cassettes with shows on them. I've been hooked ever since! Great article, keep em coming!
Check out the OTR Streamer, Old Time Radio, and Gunsmoke just to name a few. these are all great and have many options to choose from, except of course, Gunsmoke, which is just that show.
Absolutely love your posts, Morgan. Please keep em coming.
Thank you so much for such a useful response. My wife and I listen to OO Tunes every day, but not for Old Time Radio. It is set to a Dunkirk radio station in France that plays their musical golden oldies. All the news and commercials are in French and about 80% of their music is also in French. The rest of their music selection tends to be in English or Spanish. It is a very happy radio station that we have listened to for years.
Besides the iPhone 5S that is my bedtime device, I have a second iPhone 5S that is for our downstairs sound system. I should play OO Tunes and the Golden Age radio on that one. Nothing quite like "The Shadow" theme on good speakers...
Thanks for writing. It was a real pleasure to read your note.
If you subscribe to Sero, formerly known as SamNet, they have tons and tons and even more tons of old time radio shows. Alternatively, you could download the Internet Archive app and get access to even more tons (hah hah) of oldtime radio shows as well as a bunch of old time live music and other goodies. They even have a Mind's Eye recording of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" if you are in to that kind of thing. That app is a bit confusing but can be used with Voiceover.
Thanks for the great posts.
I was wondering if there is any way I can download your archive of old time radio?
I have a 4 tb hard drive so I am very sure it will fit on there nicely. *Smiles*
I do like old radio and to hear news from world wor ii and other periods in time would be facinating.
Thank you for reading,
Truly wonderful to hear from you again. I hope you are doing well.
I really appreciate the pointers to other sources of good Old Time Radio. As you can tell, I do suffer from an Old Time Radio addiction. My biggest problem is that I frequently fall asleep before an episode finishes, so I quite often need to start up the show again the next night. Still, I love these shows! Lately, I've been going through all of the "Broadway Is My Beat" series. I should note that in an episode that I heard the other night, a person of interest in the crime series was talking about what was on her nightstand. She mentioned, twice, that her eye-pad was there. I listened to that a couple of times and realized she was talking about those blinders to keep out light, but it was so cool to hear a 1950 show mentioning iPads.
Great to hear from you.
Great to hear from you.
Ah, yes. I used to listen to iBlink Radio. In particular, I listened to the "Triple Click Home" podcast that Jamie Pauls used to work on. I did see your update on Sero the other day on AppleVis, and appreciated the new info.
Thanks for your pointer to Sero. I know I have the app, but have yet to visit since their name change. I will make sure and do that.
Thanks for asking. My collection of radio shows is not accessible, but there are plenty of great ways to still gain access to whatever interests you. Besides OTRCAT which I mentioned in the article, I have seen other places on the net where you can acquire your own treasures. As some of the comments above have indicated, there are streaming resources , too.
I hope you have as much fun with Old Time Radio as I have!
I'd like to download lodes of files at once as I am a lazy person and would rather take a couple extra steps to download a bunch of files than download one at a time. I am using windows 10 with the latest update and NVDA with Firefox. I've tried down them all but I find that it is a bit too fiddley for me and that I am unable to make it so that down them all only downloads MP3 files.
Can someone help?
I really enjoyed the article and thought you might like to know that My twin brother Larry and I have collected and played the shows on the air and via the internet for about 45 years. Interviewing the people who did those shows at conventions we helped to create and on the air has helped the Old time radio hobby to continue to this day. If you'd like to know more about the hobby and keep tabs on what we are airing and who we are continuing to interview, drop Larry Gassman an email for our weekly email information. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. there are arround three podcasts on Old time radio in the applevis podcast archives. Since the demise of live 365, the YesterdayUsa app no longer works but the broadcasts can still be heard on Tunein Radio and oTunes.
I meant to write this reply much earlier, but was not able to until today. This was a nice article for sure. My issue with most of the streaming apps is that the audio quality suffers significantly so that they can save on disk space. Vintage Radio seems to have decent quality, but I, like you, have my personal library of OTR and primarily keep only high quality recordings. This has to do with my hearing impairment, of course, but you would be surprised at the number of programs which have decent quality of sound to them over the years. Some of the Jack Benny stuff in particular from the 1930's is of great quality, especially for recordings that are 80 or more years old.
I, too, started listening to radio dramas on cassette, but was first introduced to them as a kid while spinning around the AM dial at night and discovering Chuck Shaden's show on WBBM in Chicago. I was living near Detroit at the time, and it was the first time I had heard radio dramas and also the first time I had heard a radio station from far away. Well, far away at the time, but that night was very influential for me as a radio hobbiest both with regard to OTR and also the radio hobby overall.
Thanks again for the great article, and for prompting me to indulge myself in writing this reply.
Really nice to hear from you!
I loved your story about when old-time radio made its way into your life. What a neat personal history. Thanks for sharing.
I was born in the mid-1950s, in Ohio, and my father had always been a radio addict. Although much of my youth was listening to his radio play Big Band music, as a kid, my Dad had been hooked on shows like The Shadow, Boston Blackey and Jack Armstrong -- The All American Boy. My Dad was raised near Chicago and also loved the Chicago-based Breakfast Club with Don McNeil and used to sing their theme song around our house. On October 30, 1938, instead of listening to the Mercury Theatre, my Dad and his brothers went to the movies and missed the very famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast. A few years before he passed away, I compiled a list of his favorite shows and, as you might imagine, I have bought as many as I could find.
My life-changing exposure happened in the early 1960s when we were living in Alhambra, California. My Dad and I used to go out to the garage where he would do workshop kinds of things and I would melt lead, no kidding, to make toy soldiers. While we would be outside, he would turn on his garage radio and we would listen to the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lone Ranger and Green Hornet. Although there were a very few radio dramas still on the air, I imagine the ones we listened to were all repeats. The era of old-time radio actually ended in September 1962 when Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar aired their last shows. I've always been tickled that I fell in love with old-time radio when there was still old-time radio.
As always, thanks for writing,
good day, I made a search with the engin about how to transfer cassette to mp3 or itune format, right now I am running window 10 on my pc and if I understand right, now it is all apps, now in the days of xp vesta or window 7, you could download a program not a apps but a program call cedex, and it was one of those things that a group of blind persons Zi am guessing built the program and because I did usre the program a lot to transfer my cassette collection to mp3, that my god was in the days of window 98, but the program was so friendly, and what is happening to me right now is that I have figure out that because the french market for cd is so small compare to the anglo of any country that when an artist got a cd out, if you don't purchase it kind of in the first years, chances are that when you will want to order the cd, you will be told that it is hard of print and I talk to someone in the support for itunes and he explain to me that it does not matter if we talk about a cd or a purchase on itunes, if the recording is out of print, even if with itune you only purchase the download, it make no difference. so I for the fun of it when on ebay and realise that someone for cheap sometime expensive, you could purchase the cd use but in very good cheap. but there is one that I wanted spo bad, and I was checking every night, and at last from france I got what I wanted and it is telling me that the tape has been play only the one time to put it in mpp3, so it is just about like new.
I thought not to let it go by, so I bought it and I have recieve it. now does any one know a way that in a friendly way with voice over using myy pc I could download a apps and transfer the cassette in mp3 or what ever and than I would make a cd out of it. I am sorry for the long letter, I don't know why I have a mental hillness and I just can not express myself in a short way in writing. thank you in advance
Archive.org has thousands of OTR shows you can download. But my personal tricks--I download several hours to my computer (for those times I have no internet access) but mostly I just stream them. I have Bluetooth speakers in my kitchen (nothing like cooking while Gracie talks about Carnation milk). And I have an old radio reproduction on my night table, so I use an fm transmitter to listen at night. I love the glow of the dial! Only problem is I go through so many AAA batteries. I need to find an fm transmitter with an ac adapter. Or convert my radio to Bluetooth?
One of my favorites is Fibber Mcgee and Molly, because I've learned so much about what life was like during WWII: black market meat, carpooling, all the things people did to support the war effort.
I have an imitation Philco radio set that is actually a pair of speakers that I used to hook up to my iPhone. However, I also got tired of changing out batteries and now rely solely on EarPods for my OTR listening.
I agree with you. Fibber McGee and Molly does provide a fascinating look back in time. Like you, I also enjoy learning more about that era. My current Old Time Radio favorites are the police and private eye shows, along with those fiction and non-fiction programs directly linked to World War II.
Thanks for writing,
I'm sold on the Airpods, and am going shopping today! I think this is going to be an impulse purchase I won't regret for a second. Thank you for your detailed and very entertaining reviews on them, Morgan. I use Voicedream daily, (now that VO voice Fred is available--I loathe humanlike speech, so am thrilled that this voice has made my Iphone more friendly to my ears, and therefore usable!) I prefer my books in plain text with Voicedream, but hadn't thought of using it for OTR, as well. These wireless earbuds are just going to make life so much better!
What a nice article, and comments! I really enjoy hearing about how everyone discovered OTR.
It seems like I've always had an awareness of OTR, because I recall my grandmother talking fondly about how she used to enjoy the 40s era shows, particularly The Green Hornet and Boston Blackie, and some comedies. In my teens, in the 80s, I came across an out of town station late one night, and was immediately smitten with Suspense and the Whistler ( I still love that music.) of course, as a kid obsessed with the telephone, "Sorry Wrong Number" was riveting--as it surely is for anyone. A year or two after, our local station had the CBS Mystery Theater on every Friday night, and heaven help anyone who interfered with my listening to that!
I spent more money than I care to remember, in the 90s, on cassettes, so I'm all in favor of free access, and am grateful we now have it, and for the effort people have put in, making shows available. It's now much easier to try different programs, and have a more well-rounded OTR experience.
My best suggestion is to do a Google search as follows:
archive.org, "OTRR", show title, "single episodes".
OTRR stands for Old Time Radio Researchers Group, and they are thorough, and in many cases, have the most complete collections of various shows, and best sound quality.
Once you click away from Google to the page for the show you want, search that page for "show all". When you click on "show all", you will see a list of every available episode, and can then download those mp3's individually, or backtrack to the previous page, and get a zip file of the whole lot.
Lately, I've discovered the NBC Radio City Playhouse, an anthology type show. The types of stories vary; I like the suspenseful ones best. (There's a couple of shows featuring stories involving blind characters, one decent, and one rather cringe-worthy.) I like Night Beat quite a lot, and am also making my way through Broadway is My Beat; I'll be listening for that eye pad, Morgan! Haha