This past June 28, an ambitious, groundbreaking new app and website called Classic Drama Radio hit our smartphones and the internet.
The brainchild of Andrew Wood, a 48-year-old British film and radio historian, CDR is a fulltime radio station that schedules radio dramas and comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, formatted as though it were a radio station of the time: no modern announcers providing context, just great old comedies like Fibber McGee and Molly, Westerns like Have Gun Will Travel, serials like The Man in the Iron Mask, and variety programs like The Big Show, starring Tallulah Bankhead.
For someone who has always loved old-time radio (or “OTR”), it provides structure and a weird sense of time travel. For someone new to OTR, the quality of the programming will come as a revelation.
You could get lost in a thing like this.
Audere interviewed Wood this week about his great new project.
AUDERE: Your new app is amazing and entertaining. I really love it. When I am listening to the app, I feel as though I’m listening to a real radio station from an earlier era, rather than a modern station playing old stuff. How do you maintain that kind of illusion?
Wood: I am very well-educated on old-time radio, its stars and shows and am as familiar with my collection as many people are with their favorite TV shows.
I try to broadcast shows as close as possible to their original air dates and all serials and weekly or daily shows are broadcast in order as originally aired, on the same day. So if a show went out Monday to Friday, it does so on Classic Drama Radio. If it was a weekly show aired originally on a Wednesday, it will air each Wednesday on Classic Drama Radio.
You’ll probably notice that if at the end of a particular show, they announce that, say, Dorothy Lamour is on next, then I always make sure that the very next show is the corresponding one. If they advertise that Dinah Shore will be heard Wednesday and Friday, she will be.
I have a large collection of original commercials and advertisements for shows as well as public service announcements all from the same era and these are incorporated between each show to add to the authentic flow so that when you tune in, you literally have a time capsule back to the days before television and you can enjoy daily home entertainment the way folk used to listen.
How did you become interested in OTR?
My love for old-time radio began at a very young age when I started listening to vinyl albums of radio programs. I was already a huge fan of 1930s movies, which I discovered whilst turning the dial on my little portable black and white TV in my bedroom when I was about six years old and discovering a wonderful monochrome world of Greta Garbo, Laurel and Hardy, Jean Harlow, Boris Karloff and the like.
Seeing familiar actors of the same era gracing vintage record sleeves was what attracted me to check them out, only to find some wonderful radio shows — a media I was totally unaware of at the time.
I have now been a serious collector of old-time radio shows for decades and have accumulated a collection of over 100,000 shows. These have come in a vast array of formats — originally cassettes and vinyl records which were often several generations down from the master sources. As a result, I started to seek out original transcription discs from the 1920s-1950s. I remastered them and had them transferred to digital formats before then using the rare original discs to trade on for further material.
What inspired you to start a fulltime OTR radio station?
Movie producer and Documentary maker Tony Klinger, and author and filmmaker, Joseph Sultana operate “Give Get Go”, a company all for making things happen. Tony is the son of Michael Klinger who produced films such as “Get Carter” starring Michael Caine.
Aside from filmmaking, publishing, producing theatre plays and audio dramas and coaching, they decided to branch out into radio broadcasting.
I first met Joe Sultana in May 2021. He explained that he and Tony were looking for someone to create and run an old-time radio station.
I have had a desire to edit and run exactly the same type of station for years but never quite knew how to go forward with it. I had tried to look into it but was put off by costs and other obstacles, so I was delighted to come aboard and help.
After meeting with Tony Klinger and Joseph Sultana, I was given the task of creating and running the station, which was of course an absolute pleasure, not to mention a labor of love.
What does running this station involve?
With a good knowledge of how the broadcast formats were back in the pre-television days, I have worked hard to make “Classic Drama Radio” the very best of its kind. I generally work around 14 hours each day editing and creating a flowing daily schedule of varied types of shows ranging from music shows to detectives, comedies, horror, quiz shows, news programs, westerns, soaps, police shows, kids’ programs and serials.
What is the greatest radio show of all time?
Anything starring Orson Welles is a guaranteed delight, and I consider his 1937 seven-part serialized adaption of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables the greatest piece of radio I’ve ever heard.
I am a huge fan of many types of show with comedies and variety shows high on my favorites list — Sealtest Variety Theatre, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, The Big Show, Kraft Music Hall With Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Amos And Andy, Birdseye Open House with Dinah Shore, You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx, Father Knows Best, etc.
I’m also an avid listener of the soaps such as Claudia, The Family Doctor and One Man’s Family, and I am a huge fan of Australian voice actor and producer George Edwards, whose serialized adventure stories such as Jekyll and Hyde, The Adventures Of Marco Polo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein, The Man With The Iron Mask, The Corsican Brothers and Afloat With Henry Morgan are some of the most entertaining pieces of audio available.
In your view, why do we need this? Don’t audiences have numerous ways to seek out OTR and listen to it on the internet?
Although still relatively popular in America, old-time radio is practically unknown in the UK. The mere mention of it evokes confused stares.
Our vision is to fix that problem by making it freely available. Without knowing about it, no one is going to even think of searching for shows online let alone buying or downloading them. But if they discover them being broadcast, they are sure to think “hang on, this is interesting!” and listen out for more.
How has the app been doing so far?
We have accumulated a faithful worldwide audience and have listeners all over North and South America, Australia, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, etc., and we run a Facebook group for listeners where they can chat daily to fellow listeners about the shows they are listening to on the station, and I post updates and information throughout each day including colorful show posters to keep our listeners informed on what to listen out for.
One last question: Fred Allen or Jack Benny?
Jack Benny versus Fred Allen is an interesting one. I love both of them. Fred was ahead of his time and quite unique in his style of performing. His writing is stellar and of course, he was heavily involved with Tallulah Bankhead’s variety series, The Big Show, which is one of my absolute favorite shows. Jack’s show is very much an ensemble of quirky, different characters and players — people such as Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, band leader Phil Harris, Irish tenors such as Dennis Day and earlier on, Kenny Baker. Later on, Mel Blanc who is known to everyone as the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and all those wonderful Warner Brothers characters. The unlikely combination of stars works a treat, making the show one of the most timelessly hilarious programs of any radio era. As an individual performer, Jack really stands out as one of those first conversational types of standup comedian that are all the rage nowadays but less so back in the 30s and 40s.
Two very influential men. Two hilarious individuals. So in answer to your question of which one do I prefer … “now, cut that out!”
How to listen, and more to know:
Classic Drama Radio is available to listen via www.classicdramaradio.co.uk as well as via two Classic Drama Radio apps, available at the Apple store for iOS users and Google Play story for Android users. An Alexa skill is also available and after enabling it, the simple command, “Alexa, play Classic Drama Radio” is all that’s needed to get the sounds of the past piping into your home.
The daily schedule of shows is broadcast between 6am and 12pm UK time. The full 6 hours is then repeated between 12pm and 6pm, once more between 6pm and 12am and one last time from Midnight until 6am at which point the next day’s programming begins.
The full weekly schedule is available on the website and is updated each Sunday.
On the Facebook group, Wood provides the different times for different international time zones, including California, New York, Sydney, and London, among others.
For more, here is a recent radio interview.