Old Time Radio Shows

I received a catalog from Radio Spirits where you can send for CD’s or cassettes of old time 1930s and 40’s radio shows. I am thinking of getting some of the detective and mystery programs some of which my dad would tell me he listened to while he was a kid.

Does anyone have any recommendations or any first hand knowledge of the old programs like Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, The Shadow? The collections are quite pricey $60.00. I would like any suggestions.

I don’t have any recommendations, but I do have an idea for if you’d like to try them yourself. Is there a Cracker Barrel restaurant near you? They sell individual tapes of radio shows, as opposed to entire collections. They also have a books-on-tape rental program, and if that applies to the radio show tapes, you might be able to rent some and see if you like them before you deal out $60 for the whole collection.

A local radio station (KRLD, in Dallas, TX) plays old radio shows most Sunday nights. The show is sponsored by Radio Spirits. Perhaps some station in your area carries this show. If not, you could order one of their assorted collections and see which shows you like best before buying a single character set.

Personally, I am fond of Johnny Dollar, perhaps because it reminds me of the old Earthworm Tractor stories in the Saturday Evening Post.

The Sam Spade episodes I have heard star Howard Duff, who plays the part rather differently than Humphrey Bogart did on film. The shows are lighter in tone than “The Maltese Falcon.”

Vincent Price is wonderful to listen to in “The Saint.” This show also has a fairly light tone. People get killed, and the Saint gets beaten up regularly, but he always manages to crack a couple of jokes.

But everyone’s tastes are different. I really do think you would be better off to hear some of the shows yourself. If they have a mystery assortment, that would give you a better idea. You could even go for a general assortment, and try out the comedies, SF, and others.

Hi All!
I remember Flash Gordon and The Phantom the most,
listenin to them in early 60s when I ws a kid.

Rich in Seattle.

You can find many MP3s of the old time radio shows on the internet, to give you a taste of good shows and bad shows. Do a search and look around. You should be able to find some Jack Benny, and some Shadow for sure. They were on the air for so long, and have so many fans.

The Shadow was a popular long running show based on a pulp character that was in novels at the time. The show had high production values. Some lesser made shows would have a narrator say things like “And Jill opened and closed the door and walked over to the desk”. The Shadow would have sound effects guys who actually made you hear Jill opening and closing the door. They were able to put more of it into your mind’s eye. Problem with The Shadow is that it’s stories are rather silly, listened to today. If you get over how hokey the plots are, they are well made and enjoyable to listen to. The first couple of years Orson Welles stars as Lamont Cranston. I believe Agnes Moorehead plays the female lead, but I am not sure.

Speaking of Welles. The Mercury Theatre had some well done performances. Aside from it’s most famous(infamous) War of the World’s show. There are numerous stories from classic literature that was redone by the Mercury Theatre players.

Johnny Dollar is a fun show. Johnny Dollar is an insurance investigator. The framework of the show is Dollar writing up his expense list for the latest case he worked. Justifying all of his purchases and explaining what happened in the case. This, I believe, started out as a 5 day a week serial. Each day there was a 5 or 10 minute show that had a cliffhanger at the end to be continued the next day. It was turned into a regulary 30 minute show, eventually. The 30 minute show is much better than the serial.

I think a fun well made show that you don’t hear about a lot is Damon Runyon Theatre. These are stories based on the stories of Damon Runyon. Guys and Dolls is based on Damon Runyon’s stories. The stories are told through the eyes of a narrator named Broadway. They mostly tell tales of the New York underworld. Nothing gritty, just fun stuff.

Good luck. I hope you find something you like.


One of our local radio stations (WLAY-AM) used to carry the Radio Spirts program mentioned earlier. I really enjoyed it, mostly for the comedies. But I also liked The Shadow and some of the horror anthology shows, great atmosphere. I’ve never heard The Saint, but I used to read the stories so I though about ordering it. I used to get the Radio Spirits catalog, after I ordered a Fred Allen set from another catalog.

The local station quit carrying the Radio Spirits show about six months ago, and have since changed format from classic country to sports talk. Damn Clear Channel station.

Here is a great site for buying MP3’s of OTR . A large list. Plus you can download a sample program from most of them.

The CD’s are quite cheap, but they will only play on your computer or an MP3 player. And some cD and DVD players.


I’m into Horror and mystery. Some good shows are…

Lights Out
Iner Sanctum
The Haunting hour
These are newer shows. But they can be found. Some of these shows make good use of stereo sound.

CBS Radio Mystery Theater
Vanishing Point

The quality of the shows can vary widely. From crystal clear to full of static.
Ebay is also also a great place to find the CD’s

Good luck and good listening!

KNX 1070 out of Los Angeles has a drama hour every night at 9. This doesn’t help IceRigger much since his profile says he is in PA. (Philadelphia’s WCAU used to have an old time radio hour every night. They also used to have the best movie radio talk show ever. Hosted by Steve Friedman (Mr. Movie) he would talk from midnight to 6 am every Sunday morning about every movie known to man. Alas, WCAU is no more. Something else is on 1210. Something not quite as good.)

Anyway, KNX does offer a webcast of it’s broadcasts. So, you can sample some shows before you buy them. You listen to the program at any time, not just at 9.
They also have a schedule of their shows. They webcast the shows the day after they are broadcast on the air.



I confess, I am an OTR geek.

I stick mostly to mystery, horror, & sci-fi, but I collect a fair amount of comedy & drama.

I like “Box 13” & Richard Diamond – don’t take themselves too seriously.

Suspense is king - I think I have just about all of it.
I love the cold war paranoia - “I was a Communist for the FBI” is stand out stuff.
If you want to trade (public domain stuff only) drop me a line via e-mail – (.mp3 CD’s work out pretty good – usually can fit at least 24 hours of material on one.)

I’m actually a little embarrassed about how much OTR I have - it’s a sort of sickness. The last time I checked I had about 2 1/2 months of material recorded. I don’t check anymore.

I have a couple tapes of Abbott & Costello’s shows. Great stuff (see my sig, in fact).

I think www.mediabay.com is the online source for MP3 versions of radio spirits. If not it has a very similar catalog. I have a subscription on this site and get 20 hours a month for (I think) $12.95. Much cheaper and lots of listening, but you need a player and a good way to download. They also have audiobooks. I’d recommend the Shadow, Burns and Allen, and Orsen Welles War of the Worlds.

Damon Runyon Theater, too, although I have this on tape and not through mediabay.

Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre is available online.

A lot of good stuff there. (Just for fun, trying watching Nosferatu with the Mercury Theatre’s production of Dracula as the sound-track. It matches up pretty well, and beats the hell out of the corny organ music that most distributers try to fob off on ya.)

Thanks for all your suggestions! Well, I bit the bullet and ordered the mystery and detective collections for the low low price of $127.00, 50 CD’s in all.

Years ago, American Forces Network Radio in Europe used to play old radio shows late at night. I used to look forward to going to bed late on the weekends, listening to old Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Life of Riley and various dramas and mysteries. Unfortunately, I would rarely hear the end of the shows before zonking out.
Some of those shows were brilliantly written. Too bad no one is doing them today.
Have fun with the CD set! Try the comedies next.

Don’t overlook your local library.

Tonight I checked out “The Smithsonian Collection - Old Time Radio Mysteries” - ISBN 1-57019-168-9 - episodes from Escape, Light’s Out, The Whistler and others. I heard a creepy Suspense episode with Ozzie and Harriet a couple years ago; Suspense often featured famous stars playing against type. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Box Thirteen with Alan Ladd are also recommended.

For comedy - Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding Bob and Ray.

OTR websites seem to come and go, as interest wanes, copyright problems intrude, etc but they are out there. Some do Real Audio, some MP3, as previously noted.