NBC University Theater

Old Time Radio

Recently I read Mark Twain’s short story “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” for my Great Books Discussion Group.  Though I enjoyed it, I found it a bit tedious.  It was 39 pages long in the book we use in the group, and I have to wonder if Twain was getting paid according to the number of words he wrote.

You probably think it’s unfair for me to second guess a famous author like Mark Twain, but I have a defense for my criticism.  After reading the story I found an old time radio broadcast of the same story as part of the NBC University Theater series.  Someone had turned it into a radio play that lasted slightly less than 30 minutes.  The radio adaptation was delightful, and I felt that it was every bit as effective as the much longer original.

The NBC University Theater series was produced in Hollywood and aired from July 30, 1948 to February 14, 1951.  It featured radio adaptations of novels, short stories, and plays.  Occasionally distinguished writers and critics commented on the original work – probably when the adaptation left time for such things.  The program was so well done that it received a Peabody Award.

As I looked at the 110 programs in the series that are available for free, I was amazed to see the variety of great literature.  Voltaire’s Candide was there as were Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter;” Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, and even George Orwell’s 1984.  Some of the programs were 30 minutes long while others were a full hour.  None were more than an hour long.

I also found a series titled NBC Short Story which contains 20 free broadcasts.  Among them are a number of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and, best of all, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

I was a kid just at the time when radio was being replaced by television.  I like television, but I look back nostalgically to the days when you could only hear a story and, therefore, had to use your imagination to construct the setting and the action that took place.  Each person who listened had a unique inner vision of the world while those radio shows were on.  Often they would stare at the radio as though in a trance.  They were, in fact, in another world, the world of make believe.

It’s nice to know that I can get on the internet, and go back in time to hear the radio programs that people enjoyed so many years ago from the comfortable chairs in their living rooms.  As a friend of mine says, “We can’t live in the past, but it’s a nice place to visit.”  I visit it often, and I invite you to do the same.

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