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Radio’s Bygone Days Are Back—On the Internet

For many people, the likes of Abbott & Costello, Buck Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy are voices of yesteryear, never to be heard again. Whether these entertainment icons ever existed in comics or on television, it’s the radio incarnation that some people’s memories still tune in.

While we’ll never get the signal back for some radio shows, others are literally a click away at RadioLovers.com.
The Web site has archived episodes from more than 200 old radio shows. The episodes come up as MP3s, an audio format that can be played by RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, QuickTime and various other softwares.
And the listening is free.
Some shows might have only one episode, whereas others will have dozens. “Tarzan of the Apes,” for example, offers dozens and dozens of episodes from the early 1930s to the 1950s.
Visitors can search for shows in an alphabetical list or by genre. A glance at Westerns reveals classics like “Death Valley Days,” “Gene Autry” and “Gunsmoke.”
Included in the collection of comedy shows is Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First? routine, the broadcast of which contains cigarette commercials that really stick out to the modern listener.
The site also offers about 10 science-fiction and superhero shows. They include “Batman,” “The Avenger” and “Flash Gordon.”
To get an idea of these old-time narratives, consider how a Flash Gordon episode, Imprisoned by Hawkmen,” begins. After a rousing orchestral score and clunky sounds effects, an announcer says, “Presenting the amazing interplanetary adventures of Flash Gordon. These thrilling adventures come to you as they are pictured each Sunday in the Comic Weekly, the world’s greatest pictorial supplement of humor and adventure.”
It then brings listeners up to date on Flash’s story:
“Flash Gordon, internationally famous American athlete, his beautiful American sweetheart, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov, a great scientist, left the earth on a rocket ship. They crashed on the planet Mongo and were captured by Ming the Merciless, the cruel emperor of Mongo, who commanded Dale Arden to marry him and ordered that Flash be killed.”
Then the actual storytelling begins—ending, as always, with a cliffhanger.
“Anybody listening to these shows has to realize that this is charmingly different material from another time,” Mike Robinson, assistant professor of communication studies at Lynchburg College, told EthicsDaily.com. “They can be silly, but they are also surprising and inventive at times.”
“To me, one of the most interesting things about any radio drama is how hard the medium has to work to establish the visual qualities of the story,” said Robinson, an expert on comics and superheroes. Robinson pointed to the Flash Gordon episode, which contains a lot of “overly descriptive dialogue, a bit much to our contemporary ears, but necessary to set up what’s happening.”
He also referenced the show’s “very chatty narrator,” whom he likened to the narrative boxes in comic strips.
“Another fun thing about Flash Gordon is the rapid pacing of the story,” Robinson said. “Although the show has to work hard to describe places, because it doesn’t have to depict the environments visually, it can go just about anywhere. That preserves that breakneck narrative pace that has always been a part of Flash’s life.”
It’s fitting that Flash find a new home on the Internet, especially with its increasing broadband speeds. Those speeds, however, are part of what make this archive of old shows work.
RadioLovers.com started several years ago when Eric Borgos, president and CEO of Impulse Communications, saw another old-time radio site. That site, however, offered little free content, and its server was frequently overloaded, causing cumbersome downloads.
“I figured I could set up a more professional site with many more shows,” Borgos told EthicsDaily.com. He located sources that sold old radio shows on CD-ROM, bought as many shows as possible, and started RadioLovers.com.
The site is actually part of the Bored.com network, a collection of quirky content-based sites that sells advertising to generate revenue for its parent company, Impulse Communications. The Fountain Valley, Calif.-based company owns more than 7,000 Web sites.
“Everybody loves the site, since it is totally free,” Borgos said. “I lose money on it though, since the cost of hosting it is huge due to the large bandwidth the shows use.” Nevertheless, Borgos said he plans to add several hundred more shows in the coming months.
RadioLovers.com, Bored.com and Impulse Communications don’t own the copyrights to the shows.
“We believe that any copyrights have expired, and that many of the shows are in the public domain because they were never copyrighted,” the site explains on its main page. RadioLovers.com says it will remove any shows in violation of copyright.
With hundreds of shows available, it’s likely people will continue tuning in—or clicking on—out of nostalgia or curiosity. And it’s possible to be both impressed and amused by what you’ll hear, as Robinson demonstrates.
“I’ve also got to admit that a lot of my reaction was also kitsch,” he said, referring specifically to “Blue Beetle,” an insect-themed superhero.
As the hero speeds away from a police car in one episode, the narrator interjects: “Will the Blue Beetle be overtaken and unmasked? Ahead a stoplight is changing from green to red. Will the Blue Beetle defy the traffic regulations to avoid discovery or will he obey the rules of safe driving?”
“There we are in the middle of the story, and the narrator’s worried about driving laws,” Robinson said. “No doubt the show was aware there were children in the audience, but it sure was some forced drama.”
Cliff Vaughnis culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

The RadioLovers Web site is here.