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Happy Birthday, X Minus One - radio's greatest sci-fi anthology!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 24, 2012 11:23am | Post a Comment
Today is the 57th birthday of X Minus One, a science fiction anthology that debuted on NBC radio on 24 April, 1955. 
X Minus One

It began as a sort-of revival of pioneering sci-fi program, Dimension X and the first fifteen episodes were remakes from that series. The remainder of the episodes were originals from staff writers Ernest
 Kinoy and George Lefferts as well as their adaptations of new works by the likes of A. A. PhelpsJr., Alan Nourse, Algis Budrys, Arthur Sellings, Clifford Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, Evelyn Smith, F. L. Wallace, Finn O'Donovan, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Frank Quattrochi, Frederic Brown, Frederick Pohl, Fritz Leiber, Gordon R. Dickson, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, H. L. Gold, Isaac Asimov, J. T. McIntosh, Jack McKenty, James Blish, James E. Gunn, James E. Gunn, James H. Schmitz, Katherine MacLean, L. Sprague de Camp, Mark Clifton, Milton Lesser, Murray Leinster, Ned Lang, Peter Phillips, Phillip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Maples, Richard Wilson, Robert Bloch, Robert Heinlein, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Ross Rockland, Stephen Arr, Stephen Vincent Benet, Steven Tall, Theodore sturgeon, Tom Goodwin, Vaughn Shelton, William Tenn, and Wyman Guin.

Each episode began with announcer (variously Ben Grauer, Bill Rippe, Don Pardo, Fred Collins, Jack Costello, Kenneth Banghart and Roger Tuttle) intoning:

Countdown for blastoff... X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one... Fire! From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you'll live in a 
million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds. The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Street 
and Smith, publishers of Astounding Science Fiction presents... X Minus One.

As a result of renewed interest in Old Time Radio, Robert Silverberg wrote a new episode "The Iron Chancellor" in 1973 but did not result in a revival.

NBC was infamous for not showing much interest in their radio programs -- especially as radio waned and TV waxed -- and Dimension X suffered from being bounced around between Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and barely received any promotion. However, they didn't skimp on the writing and sound effects budget and the results were frequently amazing.

Ultimately the series ran for 124 episodes (plus the audition). Its last episode aired 9 January, 1958. Almost all episodes have been preserved and most can be listened to here. They also appear on CDs and Audio DVDs, which can sometimes be found at Amoeba. NB: the ongoing popularity of X Minus One has led to some unscrupulous folks splicing together various previously existing material from different sources to create "newly discovered" episodes. Special thanks to the folks at the Digital Deli Too for their hard work in the name of preserving OTR. Consult with them before splurging.

Happy Birthday, Dimension X - Radio's pioneering sci-fi series

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 8, 2012 08:57am | Post a Comment
Dimension X advertisementDimension X debuted on NBC radio on this day (April 8), 1950. The first thirteen episodes were performed live whilst the remainder were pre-recorded. It was directed by Fred WieheClipping of Dimension X and Edward King. The narrator and announcer was Norman Rose, who began each program with the introduction, "Adventures in time and space- told in future tense..." before "Dimension X!" boomed and echoed.


Dimension X wasn't the first adult science-fiction anthology program (2000 Plus debuted a month earlier on the Mutual network) but it was, perhaps, the best - drawing from writers like Clifford D. Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, E. M. Hull, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Fredric Brown, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, L. Ron Hubbard, Murray Leinster, Nelson BondRay Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Bloch, Stephen Vincent Benet, Villiers Gerson, and William Tenn. Most episodes were adapted from pre-existing works by Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts but the two also provided original
 works.Billboard clipping about Dimension X
It was first auditioned as Out of This World, which it was originally auditioned as on February 23, 1950. Though one of the best sci-fi series ever, the famously clueless folks at NBC never gave it proper promotion or care, bouncing it around to various slots on four different days of the week.

Happy Birthday to Night Watch - radio's first reality show

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 4, 2012 10:00pm | Post a Comment
With a few, shining exceptions (Blind Date, COPS, ElimiDate, Jersey Shore, Joe Millionaire, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Shahs of Sunset, The Bachelor, The Real World seasons 1and 2 (true stor-ay!), and maybe a couple dozen others, tops) I hate reality TV. To me most reality shows are endurance-defying and totally depressing in a consumerist dystopian way. My aversion to most reality TV is not  really out of some moral disapproval of schadenfreude nor a principled dislike of unscripted entertainment. No, I usually just find them painfully boring and unpleasant. I remember first hearing about Survivor and was rather excited by the concept, hoping for naked castaways with no common language forced to fight tooth and claw just to stay alive. Imagine my disappointment upon finding out it involved little more than people unpleasant from the get go undertaking a series of challenges for prizes in a tropical setting and talking about alliances. Yawn. The good reality shows (as determined by me) offer anthropological thrills, exposing the strange mating rituals of exotic subcultures and paint portraits of people in a way rarely seen in the stylized fictions of the day. 
One of the earliest reality programs was on the radio, Night Watch. It was preceded by the hidden camera prank TV show Candid Camera which debuted in 1948 but, though both reality shows, could scarcely be more different. Night Watch debuted on CBS on April 5th, 1954, a few years after the popularity of TV exploded, threatening film and radio's dominance. To compete with TV's popularity, film offered things not available on TV like widescreen, technicolor, married couples sharing a bed, and
  black people. Old Time Radio ultimately died out in 1962 but in its last days offered other things in short supply on TV, namely adult content, intelligence and exploitation that would never pass muster on the beloved family idiot box. Radio programmers seemed to be OK with a bit of gore and tawdriness since it all took place in the mind and because it was at least packaged as a cautionary public service rather than the exploitation which it really was. The first time I heard it was an episode involving a suicide attempt (there were several) and I was hooked.

Happy Birthday, The Life of Riley! - or - What a revoltin' development this is!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 16, 2012 12:22pm | Post a Comment
On this day, in 1944, The Life of Riley premiered on the Blue network (later known as ABC).

William Bendix at NBC

The Life of Riley began with an audition taping on July 25, 1943 after its creation by Irving Brecher. Over the course of roughly 320 episodes, it established itself as one of the most enduringly funny sitcoms on Old Time Radio. It's final episode on ABC aired on July 8, 1945. After moving to the NBC radio network, it aired again from August 8, 1945 until its final episode aired on June 29, 1951.

The main character, Chester A. Riley, was played by William Bendix. His wife, Peg, his son, Junior, and his daughter, Babs, were all played by more than one actor. Both his co-worker/neighbor, Gillis, as well as audience favorite, Digby "Digger" O'Dell (the "friendly undertaker") were both played by John Brown. At various times it was sponsored by the American Meat Institute, Teel Dentifrice, Dreft, Prell Shampoo, and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

Life of Riley - American Meat Institute   Life of Riley - Pabste

Happy Birthday, Gunsmoke - The Greatest Radio Western of All Time

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 26, 2011 12:24pm | Post a Comment
Gunsmoke was, without question, the greatest radio western of all. It debuted 59 years ago today, on April 26th, 1952. Having been exposed to juvenile westerns like The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder as well as the boring Gunsmoke TV series, for a long time I avoided the radio program. Besides, it was set in Kansas.
 
Then one day, I tuned in to an episode already in progress. Not knowing what it was, I didn't immediately change the station and was drawn into what sounded like a vivid, violent film noir, albeit set in 19th century Dodge City. When I realized it was Gunsmoke, I was surprised to say the least, but also hopelessly hooked.
 

Gunsmoke was created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston at the behest of CBS's programming chief, Hubell Robinson. His boss, CBS chairman William S. Paley, was a fan of another classic CBS program, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Robinson had suggested to the West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to create a 
"Philip Marlowe of the Old West" in the 1940s.
 
In 1949, Ackerman and the famed scriptwriting duo of Mort Fine and David Friedkin created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel." It starred Michael Rye as Matt Dillon. A second audition used Howard Culver, who employed a lighter approach. CBS OKed the latter but Ackerman's contract as the star of Straight Arrow (on the Mutual Network) interfered. Gunsmoke was thus shelved until three years later, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it whilst working on their own adult-oriented western.
 

The new version cast the inimitable William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell and Parley Baer as deputy Chester Proudfoot. The writers sought to create the first realistic western, one populated by sociopaths and without untarnished heroes. Stories unflinchingly depicted rape, lynchings, murder, prostitution, scalping, massacres, theft, drug addiction and more. Justice was often not served. 

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