Rebroadcasting Old Radio Shows

Here in my little West Georgia town we are trying to get our 1000 watt radio station on the air again and were mulling over the kind of programming we’d like to feature. I thought of a segment which would feature old radio shows such as LIGHTS OUT, INNER SANCTUM, and others, but I am wondering if we would have the right to rebroadcast these without paying a royalty? Many of these shows are now out on cassettes and I think that perhaps they are now in the public domain. What do y’all think?



Note what it says on the cassettes. Basically for private use only. No rebroadcast, etc.
Lum and Abner radio shows are still available for rebroadcast syndication from a firm out of Arkansas…for money.
Depending on who renewed their rights, some of the best are not quite in PD yet.

As a guy who worked in radio for 20 years (though it’s been almost 20 years since), I’d have to tell you that there ain’t no free lunch. You can’t even buy a bunch of CDs and put the music on the air without paying an annual blanket royalty fee to BMI, ASCAP and SESAC so that the composers of the songs benefit.

There are many syndicators out there who will be delighted to sell you the rights to broadcast in your market their package of old time radio shows. In addition, I suspect these days that they may have a satellite-feed network doing the same thing, as every other format under the sun is available that way.

At our small market radio station in Oregon, we bought a package of 20 classic radio Christmas shows including the rights to broadcast those 20 shows in our market only for perpetuity. Great stuff, including Jack Benny, Duffy’s Tavern, Burns & Allen, etc. and it was easy to get local advertizers to sponssor their very own show. We used to schedule a block of them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and had good audience response.

Doing it full time would be a lot of fun, but also sounds like a lot of work.

As a practical matter, you would probably need a top 50 market to find enough listeners who like that particular format to make an audience large enough to sell to advertizers. Small town stations generally have to go either to a very broad appeal format (generic country or generic rock or news/talk) or segment the hell out of the dayparts and try and get a chunk for everybody. At a very small market (250 watt local AM) where I started back in the mid-60s, the owner provided a general middle-of-the-road format (Andy Williams, Tijuana Brass, 101 Strings, etc.) and threw in lots of specialty shows. There was a kids’ “Fun House” program that aired after school at 3:30 with the kiddie records of the 50s that featured Tubby the Tuba, Gerald McBoing-Boing and a few old transcribed network radio shows (“Buzz Corey and the Space Commandos”).
Then a Teen Tune program from 4:30 to 5:00, lots of wire service news, an hour of “dinner music” from 6:00 to 7:00, mostly strings or piano music, a Polka Party on Friday nights, a Request Time on Monday Nights, four hours of classical music on Sunday night, etc. It was a small semi-isolated market, and the owner wanted to put something on for everyone.

It was the kind of station where we read obituaries on the air because the local newspaper was a weekly and it would be possible for someone to die and have a funeral scheduled before the paper came out again. so we aired funeral notices including obits as a public service so people would not miss out.

Good luck on your venture

Thanks Hometownboy for that very detailed answer. I notice you do not list your e-mail address, but if you wouldn’t mind I would like to correspond with you further about this.

Thanks again