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Old-time radio

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Fozzie listening to a vintage radio set in "Fozzie Goes Overboard"
(First published: Jim Henson's Bedtime Stories)


Baby Kermit hosts a broadcast


The cast of an American radio drama, as depicted in Dreamchild




Only the Weirdo knows.


Rodeo Rosie and friends dance around a radio, styled after the Philco cathedral models


Guy Smiley as radio announcer

Bert old fashioned radio

Bert listening to his favorite radio program.

Old-time radio (OTR) is a phrase frequently used by scholars, fans, and companies to refer to a period in American broadcasting history, from roughly 1926 to 1962, when radio was a dominant entertainment medium. While modern radio is dominated by music stations, newscasts, and call-in talk shows, "old-time radio" featured a wide range of programming.

"Old-time radio" encompassed situation comedies, variety shows, game shows, anthology series, dramas, serials, and live band performances. Soap opera as a form originated in radio, and such programs as The Guiding Light went on to equally long runs on television. Other radio series successfully transferred to TV include Gunsmoke, Dragnet, and The Lone Ranger. Mellifluous announcers, live sound effects (often created through household implements), and dramatic tag openings characterized the programming of this period. Contrary to the impression that old radio was always "tamer" than television, sound men on mystery programs employed such techniques as chopping a head of cabbage with a machete to simulate decapitation, or grilling bacon to suggest searing flesh.

The phrase "old-time radio" has also been applied to programs of like vintage from England (such as The Goon Show), Australia, or Canada, but less frequently since radio has largely retained the same basic scope and significance in these countries, with the BBC still producing regular dramatic series, adaptations, and sitcoms. Within the United States, with the exceptions of occasional revivals, mostly as syndicated series, and sporadic dramas on NPR, radio programming of this stripe is relegated to the past, but made available through record, tape and CD collections, online archives, regional re-broadcasts, live recreations, and satellite radio channels.

The last network radio comedy was The Stan Freberg Show on CBS in 1957. Most soap operas ended in 1960, as the genre moved to television. The mystery series Suspense and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar both ceased in the fall of 1962. Thus, Jim Henson grew up during the tail-end of the radio era, and was exposed to such series as The Shadow and The Green Hornet.[1] The announcing style used on these programs was largely adopted by Jerry Nelson, as the announcer on The Muppet Show and in other productions.

In addition, such radio staples as Bob Hope and Edgar Bergen were guest stars on The Muppet Show, and subsequent Muppet/Creature Shop productions would occasionally reference or pay homage to old-time radio, either individual programs, or as a collective entity.


  • Well into the 1980s, on most occasions when Muppets would listen to radios (on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show or in books), the radio in question would be an old-fashioned wooden model, often with glowing dial, resembling the famous RCA or Philco models. A typical example occurs when the Martians discover what a radio is. (EKA: Episode 2283) This breakthrough in interplanetary communications occurred years after national radio audiences discovered Martians (through the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcasts).
  • In Hey Cinderella!, the Fairy Godmother wears a mask to the ball, saying she received it from a friend, a "very generous fellow... wanted to lend me his faithful Indian companion as well" a reference to The Lone Ranger, which began life on radio at station WXYZ on January 31, 1933.
  • In The Great Santa Claus Switch, when Fred the Elf is taken prisoner, he claims that he is not merely a "mild-mannered" toy builder, but "Super Elf, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." This text is from the opening narration of The Adventures of Superman radio serial (1940-1951), which starred Clayton "Bud" Collyer as Superman, and used in several subsequent versions. A variation of the spiel was also used in many Super Grover installments.
  • Sesame Street frequently referenced old-time radio shows specifically, from Dragnet to You Are There, but often incorporated elements and phrases, particularly in the style of the announcers and use of organ music, as well as merging aspects of various shows.
  • One notable example is Granny Fanny Nesslerode's "Answer Lady" skits. Her announcer, using a New England twang, brings the show from "her cozy, sunfilled kitchen in Goat Corners, New Hampshire." The intro, cozy kitchen setting, and interaction between Granny and the announcer are all derived from Aunt Jenny's Real-Life Stories, a soap opera which ran from 1937-1956 in which Aunt Jenny would tell the announcer a weekly serialized story. However, the skit intro also recalls the Bob and Ray parody of Aunt Jenny, Aunt Penny's Sunlit Kitchen, and the advice format comes from many radio shows, notably John J. Anthony's The Goodwill Hour (1937-1953).
  • In an Ernie and Bert sketch, Bert is listening to Pigeons in the News, his favorite radio program. The series and its announcer (Jerry Nelson) imitate the style of Walter Winchell's radio news series (1931-1957), using a telegraph key sound to transition between stories and phrases like "Dateline Cleveland." ( In The Sesame Street Dictionary, Bert can be seen listening to a similar program on his radio.
  • Also in The Sesame Street Dictionary, for the entry for the word "ever," Guy Smiley is seen as a radio announcer, narrating the adventures of Marshal Grover and ending on a cliffhanger note, in the style of The Lone Ranger or especially the many radio adventure serials.
  • In Dreamchild, while visiting New York City, Alice Hargreaves sits in on an old-time radio broadcast, an adventure drama. The sound man (Ken Campbell) employs coconut shells as horse hooves, a common trope in the radio era. Mrs. Hargreaves subsequently delivers a radio commercial, playing on her reputation as "Alice in Wonderland."
  • The unfinished video script Campfire Songs notes that the character of Hoss the horse would speak like Western actors Chill Wills, Slim Pickens, "or Fred Allen's senator Klaghorn." The latter refers to the character of Senator Claghorn from Fred Allen's "Allen's Alley" radio segments (who also inspired the Looney Tunes character Foghorn Leghorn).
  • The Dog City episode "Radio Daze" involved Ace Hart in a crime wave at radio station WFIDO, involving attacks on the cast and crew of the soap opera "It's a Dog's Life." The culprit turns out to be the enraged sound effects man.
  • In "Elmo's World: Books," the Book Channel promotes "Our Miss Books," referencing the radio sitcom Our Miss Brooks (1948-1957), which also ran concurrently on TV from 1952-1956, with most of the same cast.



Bergen and McCarthy, two of radio's biggest stars, on The Muppet Show


Roy Rogers, with Dale Evans, utters his radio closing signature: "Goodnight, good luck, and may the good Lord take a likin' to ya."

Several people who worked behind the scenes with the Muppets were directly related to radio personalities.

  • Bernie Brillstein's uncle was Jack Pearl (1894-1982). Pearl, a former vaudevillian, created the character of Baron von Munchaussen, teller of tall-tales and incorrigible liar, on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air (1932), and soon headlined his own series, under various names, until 1937, with revivals up until 1954, culminating in the quiz show The Baron and the Bee
  • Jeff Moss's father, Arnold Moss (1909-1989) played various character roles on the soap operas Jane Arden (1938-1939) and Against the Storm (1939-1940); served as "the Speaker," the deity-like narrator on The Light of the World (1947); played villains and aliens on The Adventures of Superman (1950s); and was a regular as Col. Lesko on Cafe Istanbul (1952-1953), among others.
  • Tom Whedon's father, John Whedon (1905-1991) was a staff writer on The Great Gildersleeve (1941-1947) and also wrote for Edgar Bergen's The Chase & Sanborn Hour (ca. 1937) and the sitcom Hogan's Daughter (1949).

In addition, many guest stars on The Muppet Show and in movies, plus others with Muppet connections, had widespread experience from the "golden age of radio," or in more recent old-time style revivals.

  • Eddie Albert was a rotating lead star on The NBC Radio Theater (1959-1960; sometimes listed as Five Star Matinee or Morning Matinee) and guest starred on Spike Jones' Lifebuoy Show (1943), The Cavalcade of America (1948) and others
  • Lauren Bacall played Sailor Duval on Bold Venture (1951-1952)
  • Pearl Bailey guest starred on various variety and music series, including Command Performance (1944), The Kraft Music Hall (1945), and Alec Templeton Time (1946)
  • Batman and Robin were semi-regulars on The Adventures of Superman (1941-1951) and starred in an audition show (pilot), The Batman Mystery Club (1950)
  • Harry Belafonte guest starred on several musical series, including Stagestruck (1953-1954), Guest Star (between 1955 and 1958), and others
  • Jack Benny starred on The Jack Benny Program (1932-1955)
  • Candice Bergen appeared on The New Edgar Bergen Hour (1955)
  • Edgar Bergen, along with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, starred on The Chase and Sanborn Hour (1937-1939), The Charlie McCarthy Show (1940-1954), and The Edgar Bergen Hour (1954-1955)
  • Frances Bergen made guest appearances on The New Edgar Bergen Hour (1955) and The Jack Benny Program (1956)
  • Milton Berle starred on Three Ring Time (1941) and The Milton Berle Show (1943-1945, 1947-1948)
  • Elmer Bernstein composed music for the Army Air Forces series Coming Home (1945)
  • Victor Borge was a regular on The Kraft Music Hall (1942-1943) and starred in The Victor Borge Show (1943, 1945, 1946-1947, 1951)
  • Roscoe Lee Browne played a native in The CBS Radio Workshop episode "The Endless Road" (March 17, 1956)
  • George Burns starred on Burns and Allen (originally Maxwell House Coffee Time, 1932-1955)
  • Ralph Burns played piano and arranged on The Woody Herman Show (1945-1947)
  • Raymond Burr played Inspector Hellman on Pat Novak for Hie (1949) Chief Ed Backstrand on Dragnet (ca. 1949-1950), starred as Capt. Lee Quince on Fort Laramie (1956) and appeared in episodes of Suspense (1948-1959), Yours Truly Johnny Dollar (1950-1956), The CBS Radio Workshop (1956-1957, various roles including Abraham Lincoln), and others
  • Daws Butler played Hugh McHugh on That's Rich (1954), Bob Tainter and others on The Stan Freberg Show (1957), and various roles on Family Theatre, CBS Radio Workshop, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and others.
  • Cab Calloway starred in band remote series in 1941 and 1942, performed in the band for The Bill Stern Sports Newsreel, and guest starred on Command Performance (1943) and The Chamber Music Society Of Lower Basin Street (1944), among others
  • Peter Capell appeared on over one hundred radio broadcasts, playing various roles on Words at War (1943-1945), Anton Kamp on Wendy Warren and the News (ca. 1947-1957) and Dr. Horst in the Ray Bradbury adaptation "Mars Is Heaven" (on Dimension X, 1950 and 1951, and X Minus-One, twice in 1955), amongst many others
  • Kitty Carlisle was the hostess and featured singer on Coca-Cola's Song Shop (1937)
  • Art Carney played Franklin D. Roosevelt on The March of Time (ca. 1939-1944), various roles on Gangbusters (1935-1957), the Athlete on The Henry Morgan Show (1946-1947), Billy Oldham on Joe and Ethel Turp (1943), Red Lantern on the children's series Land of the Lost (ca. 1945-1948), Angus on the soap opera Lorenzo Jones (ca. 1940s), General Dwight D. Eisenhower on Living 1948 (1948), and more.
  • Loretta Clemens played Dotty Marsh on The Gibson Family (1934-1935), sang on Johnny Presents (1934-1937), and co-starred in a series with brother Jack Clemens throughout the 1930s.
  • Imogene Coca guest starred on The Big Show (1950)
  • Perry Como was a vocalist with Ted Weems on Weems' series and Fibber McGee and Molly (both 1936-1937), vocalist/panelist on the musical quiz Beat the Band (1940-1941), and the rotating star soloist on The Chesterfield Supper Club (1944-1949)
  • Ruby Dee was a regular on The Story of Ruby Valentine (1955-1956) and appeared on The CBS Radio Workshop (1956-1957)
  • Dorothy Donegan performed on several broadcasts of Jubilee (1944-1945)
  • Mike Douglas was a regular singer on Kay Kyser's College of Musical Knowledge (1945-1946)
  • Hugh Downs was an announcer at WMAQ in Chicago for local productions as well as those broadcast nationally/regionally for NBC and years later on-staff for NBC, announcing The Catholic Hour (1949), Destination Freedom (1948-1949), RFD America (1949), and as narrator of the 1951 CBS dramatic Thanksgiving special "We Gather Together."
  • Ray Erlenborn (sound effects on Dinah! I've Got a Song) was a staff CBS sound effects man on shows like Texaco Star Theater (1938-1940, providing the wailing fire siren opening), Blondie (ca. 1939-1948, where he also barked as Daisy the dog), Al Pearce and His Gang (1940s), Big Town (ca. 1937-1942), Gene Autry's Melody Ranch (1945-1956), Dr. Christian (1940s-1950s), The Red Skelton Show, and countless others
  • Dale Evans was the resident singer on That Girl from Texas (1940-1941), The Chase and Sanborn Hour (1942-1943), and co-starred on Roy Rogers' series (1944-1955)
  • José Ferrer hosted The Prudential Family Hour (ca. 1942), played the title role on Philo Vance (1945), and appeared in the United Nations radio play Document A/777 (1950), amongst others
  • Arthur Fiedler was the regular conductor for The Standard Hour (1951-1950s)
  • John Forsythe appeared in episodes of Broadway Is My Beat (1949), Best Plays (1952-1953), and The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre (1974)
  • Henry Fonda was a frequent guest lead on Cavalcade of America (6 times, 1941-1949) and The Lux Radio Theatre (1938-1942) plus appearances on Suspense (1945) and others
  • Stan Freberg starred as Richard Wilt on That's Rich (1954), himself and others on The Stan Freberg Show (1957), and guest roles on Suspense, The CBS Radio Workshop and others
  • John Gielgud played the title role in Sherlock Holmes (1955-1956; BBC transcriptions aired in the United States)
  • Arthur Godfrey served as announcer on Professor Quiz (1937) and Fred Allen's Texaco Star Theater (1942) before starring on Arthur Godfrey Time (1945-1972), Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (1946-1956), and Arthur Godfrey Digest (1950-1955).
  • Harold Gould played roles in episodes of Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour (1935) and Radio Guild (1939)
  • Margaret Hamilton played Aunt Effie on The Couple Next Door (1957-1960)
  • Bob Hope starred on The Bob Hope Show (1938-1955) and played The Taxpayer in the documentary series The Quick and the Dead (1950)
  • Lena Horne was a regular guest singer on Jubilee (1942-1947), a frequent guest on Command Performance (1940s), and appeared in Norman Corwin's United Nations radio play Document A/777 (1950)
  • Russell Horton was a regular supporting player on The CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1977-1980)
  • Danny Kaye starred on The Danny Kaye Show (1945-1946)
  • Don Knotts played Windy Wales on Bobby Benson and the Bar-B Riders (1949-1955)
  • Jack Lescoulie was the host ("Grouchmaster") on The Grouch Club (1937-1939), appeared in two episodes of Quiet, Please (1948, 1949), played himself on an episode of Boston Blackie (1948), and was a WWII radio war correspondant and a disc jockey throughout the 1940s
  • James Lipton played nephew Dan Reid on The Lone Ranger (ca. 1940s) in Detroit and in episodes of New York series The Mysterious Traveler (1948), Now Hear This (1951), and The Cavalcade of America (1952)
  • James Mason starred on The James and Pamela Mason Show (1949)
  • Ethel Merman starred on Rhythm at Eight (1935) and The Ethel Merman Show (1949), and appeared on many other series
  • Albert G. Miller wrote for many radio shows from the 30s through the 60s, including Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Eno Crime Club (1931-1932), Maudie's Diary (1941-1942), The Fred Allen Show, (1940s), Those Websters (1945), Official Detective (1956), and Theater Five (1965)
  • Zero Mostel was the resident comedian on The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street (1942)
  • Mickey Mouse starred in The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air (1938) and made guest appearances on The Lux Radio Theater and elsewhere.
  • Ken Nordine played the narrator/all protagonists on The Adventurer's Club (1947-1948), frequently narrated World's Great Novels (ca. 1946-1948), was the announcer on The Breakfast Club (1947-1948), Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy (1947-1951), A Life in Your Hands (ca. 1950-1952), and The Silver Eagle (1951-1955), plus appearances on Destination Freedom (as the prosecutor in "Execution Awaited," 1949), The Eternal Light (1953) and others
  • Don Pardo was an NBC staff announcer on such series as The Magnificent Montague (1951) and X-Minus One (1955-1957)
  • Vincent Price played Paul Morrison on the soap opera Valiant Lady (1939), Simon Templar on The Saint (1949-1951), and various guest leads on Suspense and Escape (1947-1954)
  • Tony Randall played Jarrod in the Biblical serial Light of the World (1948) and Reggie Yorke on I Love a Mystery (1949-1952)
  • Anne Revere guest starred on anthology dramas like Academy Award Theatre (1946), The Cavalcade of America (1946), and Family Theatre and Lux Radio Theatre (1949)
  • Buddy Rich played drums for Artie Shaw's band on Melody and Madness (1938-1939) and for Tommy Dorsey's series (ca. 1940-1945)
  • Roy Rogers starred on The Roy Rogers Show (1944-1946, 1948-1955) and Saturday Nite Round-Up (1946-1948)
  • Mickey Rooney hosted Hollywood Showcase (1948), played the title role on Shorty Bell (1948) and reprised his film role of Andy Hardy on The Hardy Family (1949-1950, 1952-1953)
  • Jack Rose was a staff writer for The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope (1940s), a gag man for Milton Berle's show, and wrote for Command Performance (notably "Dick Tracy in B-Flat," 1945)
  • Jada Rowland performed on The Second Mrs. Burton and Road of Life in the 1950s.
  • Reni Santoni appeared on the Suspense episode "With Murder in Mind" and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar episode "The Deadly Crystal Matter" (both 1962)
  • Raymond Scott composed, conducted, or arranged music for several series, most notably installments of The Columbia Workshop (1939-1940), Your Hit Parade (1949-1957) plus his own band remote series on CBS (1940-1944)
  • Harry Shearer played Stevie of the Beverly Hills Beavers on The Jack Benny Program (ca. 1951-1955) and child roles on Lux Radio Theatre and Our Miss Brooks
  • Dinah Shore starred on The Dinah Shore Show (1939-1940) and under other titles through 1955 (notably The Birdseye Open House from 1943-1946), was a regular singer on The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street (1940, as Mademoiselle Dinah "Diva" Shore), The Eddie Cantor Show (1940-1941), Paul Whiteman Presents (1943), The Carnation Contented Hour(1946-1948), Your Hit Parade (1947), Call for Music (1948), The Jack Smith Show (1950-1952), and acting guest turns on Command Performance, Suspense, and others
  • Beverly Sills (then Belle Silverman) was discovered as a contest winner on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour (1936), at age seven, and sang for three seasons on Major Bowes' Capitol Family
  • Olan Soule played romantic leads on Curtain Time (1938-1939) and for a longer stint on The First Nighter Program (1943-1953), Dr. Kermit Hubbard (no relation) on Joan and Kermit (1938), Bob on Chandu the Magician (1935-1936), Tom on The Couple Next Door (1935-1937), Sam Ryder on Bachelor's Children (1935-1946), Kelly on Captain Midnight (1940s), Coach Hardy on Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy (late 1940s) and others
  • Robert Stack was a frequent guest lead on Family Theatre (at least 8 episodes, 1948-1953)
  • John Stephenson played various roles on The Whistler (1947-1951), Suspense (1951-1957), CBS Radio Workshop (1956), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (1955-1960), and more.
  • Ed Sullivan hosted The Ed Sullivan Show (under various titles, 1932, then intermittently from 1941 until 1946),
  • Dick Tufeld was the announcer on Falstaff's Fables (1948), The Amazing Mr. Malone (1950), and Space Patrol (1950-1955)
  • Emanuel Vardi performed as a violinist and violist on The NBC Symphony Orchestra (ca. 1937-1954)
  • Orson Welles played Lamont Cranston on The Shadow (1937-1938), many roles (including Sherlock Holmes, Long John Silver, and Dracula) on The Mercury Theater on the Air (1938) and The Campbell Playhouse (adding Hercule Poirot to his resume, 1939-1940), multiple episodic roles on Suspense (various dates from the 1930s-1940s), The Orson Welles Almanac (1941-1942), and others.
  • Andy Williams was a regular vocalist on many local Los Angeles series, including The Feeling is Mutual (1945-1946), California Melodies (1945-1947), and The Ken Carson Show (summer 1945).
  • William Woodson narrated This is Your FBI (1947-1953) and acted in episodes of Family Theater (1953), Suspense (1954), and The CBS Radio Workshop (1956-1957, also writer), among others.


  1. Finch, Christopher. Jim Henson: The Works. p. 3
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