In honour of Joan Davis’ birthday today, I wanted to take some time to look at some of my favourite old-time radio shows. I listened to a lot of the classics growing-up, and still fantasize about writing a serialised, dramatic podcast. There was some truly great work coming off the radio waves during this time, and many of the places and faces are becoming tragically forgotten about.
Take a look at my Top 5 Old Time Radio Shows.
The Fred Allen Show (1932-1949)
Fred Allen is a name which deserves to be right alongside his below contemporary Jack Benny. Essentially, Allen was the David Letterman to Benny’s Jay Leno. Fred Allen was an uber talented writer, handling much of the creative lifting of his long-running radio show. The humor is incredibly topical, as a result it is a little more challenging than the more topical Jack Benny. However, clips of the show provide a fascinating insight into Depression era radio.
The Jack Benny Program (1932-1955)
Jack Benny is the stuff of radio legend… just look at that runtime. The show had various names and different sponsors, but the format was usually the same. Benny stared with the same supporting cast and featured stories set in Hollywood of the period usually featuring the delightfully cheap Benny trying to convince everyone he was a 39-year-old violin virtuoso.
The show soars on the strength of its cast. With few exceptions, they were together for much of the show’s run and demonstrate a chemistry to match. The show is legitimately funny and is a must hear if you are at all a fan of this era in popular culture.
Our Miss Brooks (1952-1956)
Our Miss Brooks is one of the handful of radio shows to jump from radio to television as the medium exploded in popularity. The show rests on the delightfully capable shoulders of Eve Arden as high school teacher Connie Brooks as she goes through the surprisingly non-mundane aspects of her life. The series features a delightful performance by Richard Crenna as student Walter Denton. If you haven’t seen this character… you must. It stands as one of the most legendary instances of voice acting to span mediums.
However, one thing must be asked… why does Connie insist on fawning over boring biology teacher Mr. Boynton. He’s boring and flat-out doesn’t deserve her… it’s sooooo 1950s. You don’t need him, Connie. You don’t need him.
The Halls of Ivy (1950-1952)
Halls of Ivy is a bit of a deep-cut. However, ladies feast your eyes (and ears) on the glory that is Ronald Colman. While the man graced our movie screens, he has pipes tailor-made for radio.
Halls of Ivy features Colman and his real-life wife Benita Hume as the President of a midwestern college. While the plot is fairly standard, what sells the show is Colman and his chemistry with the equally amazing Hume. The two are incredible together expanding on groundwork that they laid initially in the Jack Benny show.
Fibber McGee and Molly (1935-1959)
Fibber McGee and Molly is a series which hasn’t demonstrated the decade spanning power of some of its contemporaries. However, during the more than twenty years which it aired, it was one of the most popular series to hit the airwaves.
The series features married couple (and vaudevillians) Jim and Marion Jordan as couple Fibber McGee and Molly. Even at the time of the show’s debut, the Jordan’s were well-honed vaudeville comedians and had well crafted out their on-stage chemistry. The comedy of the series hinged on their shoulders, and they remained a popular series for longer than any of the shows on this list.